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Grafica e comunicazione

Lunch in Venice with the genius.

Working in Venice is less a privilege than a punishment. It is a city that forces you to rethink time, as something totally new and unexpected. In Venice everything is amplified, even one’s breath. It is the ideal place to escape, to recreate. But Venice can also mean the maximum inconvenience for someone who suffers from apnea and is forced to work on the mainland, with its absurd pace of life dictated by technology, to which we are now subjected as slave-soldiers devoted to profit at any cost. In recent months, I had to go back to Venice, and with some diligence, to follow the restoration of Grancaffè & Ristorante Quadri in St. Mark’s Square. And it was like breathing while working. Working while breathing is something that I did back in the time of action transfers, repro camera, technical pens, French curves; antique objects perfectly unknown to graphic designers under 40. It was like going back to the dawn of the graphic design, the beginning of my career, a full day of briefings passed over a glass of good red wine, or in front of some work of art for inspiration (perhaps the Peggy Guggenheim collection, a comfortable retreat when I was studying at the Academy). To think and work slowly. Only glimpses of time past, of course. Quickly you wake up from the dream and you wonder: What am I doing? I'm wasting my time! Why, for what? And we do not realize that instead we were just working without stopping ourselves from being human. In a magnificent city, furthermore. Pure privilege. And among the many pleasant moments I have spent in Venice recently, there is one in particular I would like to share, because it is not often that you bump into a genius. And when it happens it is good to pause, even if only to emphasize not just our luck, but our alleged bad luck (which in truth is only blind ingratitude). The genius in question I saw for the first time from afar, seated at a table inside Quadri. An original and elegant elderly man, with his head in his books and papers scattered on the table in the farthest table of the Grancaffè. At my discreet inquiry, a waiter whispered: "A professor of Sanskrit who has adopted the café as his office." I was in a hurry, and the professor was all too busy, but, without knowing anything about my fleeting encounter with the gentleman, Raffaele Alajmo had planned a lunch with him for a few days later (which demonstrates, once again, the sensitivity and acuity of this faux-curmudgeon.) And that was how I found myself seated face to face with the genius, overlooking St. Mark’s Square, tasting delicacies and sharing a bottle of Barolo, on a beautiful late summer day in Venice.

Talking about the non-assimilated.

Who is Franco Rendich? Over the course of his life, he has been a number of different men, but today he can be defined, without a shadow of doubt, as an eighty-year-old Venetian who is rewriting the history of our cultural roots. Not enough? Then let me add that he is also a Sanskrit scholar who has recently written (and is currently re-editing) an Indo-Greek-Latin-Sanskrit Dictionary, a visionary work but not devoid of credibility. His source work is almost maniacal, studying the most ancient Sanskrit texts, which he now knows by heart. He studied the subject for thirty years, then began to publish, first a couple of introductory books, however large, and most recently the Indo-European Dictionary, which is not real dictionary; in fact, it can be read as an essay that excavates in the bowels of the three great classical languages in search of the meanings of individual Indo-European sounds. For Rendich, the meaning of words were not born, as we have always believed, in an abstract and arbitrary way, but by combining two or more basic ideas represented by the sounds of consonants and vowels, each of which has a particular semantic value, governed by specific association rules. He also refutes the historically-rooted idea, according to which the cultural and civic life of us Westerners originated with the work of Greek and Latin thinkers, because the mind and soul that inspired our words were not from Greece or Rome, but from an Indo-European homeland located much further north, even further north than the Arctic Circle. The Indo-Europeans, our ancestors, came alive for the first time through the individual sounds of their language. Imagine them, cold, gesticulating and articulating sounds, sounds that would later become our sounds. This is an incomparable thrill for someone, like me, who has always enjoyed digging in the etymology, so far confined to the Greek and Latin, two languages that, thanks to Rendich, feel closer, less ancient, and certainly not longer so generative.  The book is extreme, radical, never seen before, and which will only be fully understood by future generations, as befits the visionary works of true timeless geniuses. Academics dispute its conclusions, of course, but with clenched teeth, angry, angry at how the insights of this old man are backed by references and sources. His inferences, which of course can only be such, given that the line of continuity between the native language (Indo-European) and its derivatives is missing, are virtually unaffected. The only way to attack his work is to discredit it is as a whole with the claim that it "does not respect the acquisitions gained in the last century in academia." More of the same academics locked in their ivory tower. As if they did not know, themselves, that they have had to study the history of scientific progress and that the only way forward is  "not to comply too much, or not to be inhibited by, what has already been acquired" (without necessarily having to bother with Kuhn or Feyerabend).
But, as I said at the beginning, Franco Rendich is just as important (it seems incredible, given the circumstances). A brilliant conversationalist, beyond compare, who in a flash is capable of coming up with essential, yet tragic concepts (for the unenlightened humanity). He is able to reason using extensive, multifaceted, comprehensive wisdom that is, above all, easy to make practical. His offers sublime Criticism of practical reason, which often addresses with frightening clarity the irreconcilable conflict between men and women. For example, his theory of the quadrants heart-mind-sex-economy is priceless. According to Rendich, they are four separate entities that the woman remains subject to during her life. It would take up too much space to explain all of his theories, all characterized by passionate awareness and irony (and massive doses of irony). You can sit and listen to him for hours on end, and without fail, you feel more intelligent. Maybe not better (or worst), but always more intelligent.

27/01/2012 Filippo Maglione