- Festivity, Writing, and Destruction
Editors note: This article is an excerpt from Andrea Cavalletti's introduction to the new volume, Time and Festivity, published by Seagull Press.
The essays presented in this book are among Furio Jesi's least known, or among those few that have so far remained unpublished—but they are also some of the best and tightest he ever wrote. We have chosen to collect them here in the attempt to offer the reader a faithful image of the great scholar, and especially of what was perhaps the most fruitful period of his production, following the break with his teacher Károly Kerényi and the writing of Spartakus. The Symbology of Revolt,1 which he completed in December 1969. This period was crucially marked by the introduction of the "mythological machine model"(1972), the theoretical device that makes Jesi's thought so urgently relevant to our times, showing equal effectiveness whether it is applied to the science of myth and anthropology or to philosophy and political praxis. As well as his Reading of Rimbaud's 'Bateau ivre' and Knowability of the Festival (the texts more strictly connected to the "machine" and its articulations), we have chosen to include three essays by which he paid homage to some of the major names in his constellation: Rilke, the poet he studied and translated throughout his life (we are presenting an introduction to the Duino Elegies written around 1977); young Lukács—and Kierkegaard with him—, the subject of the "descant" to the text of Spartakus; and Cesare Pavese, revisited by Jesi ten years after a first essay (published in 1964), in pages leavened by a strong autobiographical tone and by a touch of subtle humor. These names are also joined by those of Kerényi, resonating, whether openly or implicitly, in almost every page, and Walter Benjamin, on whom in the early seventies Jesi had intended to write a monograph: in Knowability of the Festival, Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History are not only quoted and discussed but, beginning with the essay's title, evoked in their best-known form (das Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit, "the now of knowability").
Alongside these great early texts, we have added a self-portrait in the form of an interview, in which Jesi retraces the stepping stones of his life as a scholar—from his beginnings as an Egyptologist when he was just fifteen years old to the writing of Materiali mitologici 2 and his [End Page 1058] long-standing work on Bachofen—and recalls among other things his first Jungian readings, his early distancing from Jung and closer connection with Kerényi.
Before that, an important, hitherto unpublished essay on the Book of Daniel will reveal to the reader an unknown aspect of Jesi's work. The text was most probably written before the elaboration of the "mythological machine," and marks one of the late developments of the model based on "archetypal connections" (the elements structuring mythological language as an "autonomous internal circulation peculiar to certain materials"). It is also and above all an essay in which Jesi, for once directly, tackles and investigates down to the subtlest details and deepest connections a document belonging to the Jewish tradition, taking the Talmudic commentaries as a starting point for long explorations into extra-Jewish literatures and into the distant (and, to him, well-known) lands of Greece and Egypt. It is a reading of the Story of Susanna: a text connected with the condition of exile and bilingualism of the Hellenistic Jews, and positioned by Jesi in a "space of indeterminacy of familiarity vs. foreignness," form vs. formlessness, licit vs. illicit.
In this respect we should do well to remember that in 1970 Jesi had published a collection of poems, L'esilio,3 connecting its title to "the single developments of the concept of "exile" in the Jewish cultural and religious tradition": clearly significant words, which we might want to read alongside those contained in a manuscript dated 10 February 1961 and held by Marta Rossi Jesi: "All I have written is poetry."
The statute of writing and its connection with the dimension of exile can however be...