- Symposium Introduction:Myth and Politics in Furio Jesi
This symposium gathers original translations, commentaries, and unpublished documents related to the rich and multidisciplinary oeuvre of Italian mythologist and critical theorist Furio Jesi (1941–1980). Although relatively unknown in Anglophone circles, Jesi casts a long shadow in the world of Italian letters. In spite of his tragic death at the young age of 39, the autodidact from Turin left behind him an immense body of work, including some 20 monographs, as well as novels, articles, translations, poetry, and journalism. While it was his many books on German literature and poetry that would eventually land him a position at the University of Palermo in 1976 (in spite of his never completing any formal education), Jesi was also well-known in his day as an archaeologist, a philologist, a prolific translator and editor, as well as an active participant in the avant-gard theater milieu and the left-wing of the communist movement.
Until five years ago, very little of Jesi's corpus could be found in translation.1 Then, in 2014, English, Spanish, and French translations of Spartakus: The Symbology of Revolt appeared in rapid succession. These editions included a valuable introduction to Jesi's life and works by the Italian philosopher Andrea Cavalletti who recovered the lost manuscript from Marta Jesi's papers in the late 1990s.2 Since that time, interest in Jesi's work has continued to grow inside and outside of the academy, with colloquia, edited volumes, a documentary film, interviews with Jesi's former colleagues and comrades, and (most importantly) more translations.3
Two additional books are due to appear in English this year. The first, Secret Germany. Myth in Twentieth Century German Culture (1967), traces the reception and transmission of political myth among the literati of interwar Germany, shortly before its uptake in distorted form by Nazism.4 It is the study of how "a broken relation with the past and with myth" can descend into a religio mortis, a religion of death.5 Published here for the first time is a "Draft Introduction" mailed by the author to his then-mentor Károly Kerényi in 1965, which highlights the complex ethical and the personal stakes of the work. If the Second World War proved, among other things, that Enlightenment morality is an inadequate instrument for responding to the atrocities of the modern era, this is because it revealed the unprecedented frailty of the conscious [End Page 984] will in the face of mythic imagery ("vehicles of horror"). If the human psyche can neither repel nor purify itself of the forces of terror and destruction that surge up from its collective past—symbols of "what in Faust remains human even after the pact with Mephistopheles"—then our ethical orientation toward these unconscious reservoirs of death haunting our civilization demands to be rethought.6 Since "the contagion of such an evil always finds easy ground within us," the question cannot be whether myth is 'good' or 'bad' tout court, but rather, whether and how we can distinguish its vital and productive expressions from those powered by nihilism, guilt, and self-interest.7 Could myth once again become a "source of spiritual life that involves the whole community within it," without allowing ourselves to be carried away by powers beyond our strength?8
This year will also see the English publication of Time and Festivity, a collection of six important studies from the final decade of Jesi's life. Included among these is the celebrated essay on Rimbaud and poetry of revolt, which the editors have kindly allowed us to include in this symposium, accompanied by Andrea Cavalletti's introduction to the volume, "Festivity, Writing, Destruction."9 Besides its evident interest to theorists of poetry and political theory, "A Reading of Rimbaud's 'Bateau ivre'" signals a turning point in Jesi's own theoretical development, announcing his departure from the Jungian 'archetypal-connection' methodology of his work in the early-to-mid 1960s. It is here that we find the first explicit presentation of his signature concept, the "mythological machine model," which the commentaries in this symposium treat from several distinct angles.