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Urban Suffering Studies Center

 

 

Impressions between dreams and reality

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Alberto Giasanti

 

 

1. A sociological point of view of the world can be considered a double gaze with different levels of analysis and interpretation, that always assumes that there is a manifest reality and a latent one, a world of light and one of shadow, one of day and one of night, a city above and one below and so on. We find ourselves facing contemporary society, more specifically the western one, in which the dominant ethic expresses a dual vision of opposites and in of itself makes individuals, groups and communities unilateral and unaware of their negative sides.
A dual ethic that leads to recognition of opposing worlds between light and darkness, pure and impure, god and devil, between those that are on the side of good and those that are identified and identify themselves with evil: in this way individuals and communities are completely separated between a world of higher values that they should identify with and an underworld of other values that is opposed to the first.
An ethic that always divides human beings and societies into two sides and that is based on the principle of irreducible opposites, despite the change over time of the meaning good and evil. Furthermore individuals and groups and the collectivity live out evil as something that is foreign, to be eliminated with any means because it threatens the safety of their knowledge: it is necessary therefore to get rid of it through the projections of negativity onto strangers, even better if these strangers have skin of a different color or are different because of religion, nation, gender, physical or psychic handicap, social class or any other type of difference that can arise from the formation of the Shadow (our dark side) because manifestation of a split.
In the social western imagery the "gypsies" are above all the representation of those different from us, as in enemies, or the permanent obsession that calls to mind images of evil figures to be negated if not eradicated forever. Deep down the "gypsy" evokes even today the "vagabond", in other words the scapegoat of modernity that drives into a frenzy of ordering and regulating because to be without masters, disorganized and out of control, is an intolerable situation. And it is again the "gypsies" that are the mirror of our own desires and fears as disquieting figures that live on the edges of the city, artists and thieves by nature, citizens of the world and vagabonds, free spirits and damned demons. But an errant and half-breed, with no country, weapons and borders, peaceful and inoffensive people, is too much for a world that barely recognizes the citizenship and rights that are afforded to those that within its borders and follow certain rules and recognizes themselves in a territory. Especially a world, like ours, made up of two dimensions, only widths and lengths without a top or bottom, that appears at a glance like a huge piece of paper inhabited by flat geometric shapes. The fundamental problem for its inhabitants (men and women) is therefore relational given that often the encounters in the public spaces are dangerous encounters. At times deadly. In fact, when they come together or move apart, each of the inhabitants can see of the other only lines that get wider or shorter so that it is easy to be stabbed by each other's sharp edges. It is therefore a terroristic society, violent and hostile, where relations between people are superficial, contingent and uncertain, in which it is dangerous to invest and that do not lead to fair social bonds; in the private life or in families the relationships between people lead easily to angry reactions and instant death, only needing simple brusque movements to pierce each other. School is the only place where the various geometric shapes have the chance, in proportion to income, to learn to recognize each other as long as they are regular shapes, since the irregular ones are treated like moral distortions, if not even criminal and therefore condemned, in time, to be put down. Is it not the description of our society where social relationships are only on the surface and more than not dominated by the fear of meeting irreconcilable otherness and therefore the risk of unfixable conflict? Contemporary society lacks the sense of depth that only the side of shadow can give as long as it is recognized as indispensable; otherwise we would all be two dimensional human beings, in other words non people in a non society. The lack of depth means that social relationships are flattened on the horizontal dimension, characterized by an immediacy that cannot by its very nature grasp the complex layers of which society is made up. But if I don't know the abyss I cannot face it and so the only road that will seem available to me is the dichotomic relationship of the friend-enemy that on one hand, allows to see the world of geometric shapes as the only possible world, and on the other, allows social relationships between people that have substituted unconsciousness for rights.


2. Is the Shadow important? When there is sun that projects itself on the road, along the walls, the shadow seems to be an accessory element, secondary, even insubstantial. Instead when it isn't there it is a dramatic absence, maybe irreparable: a body without shadow is a body exposed to the gaze of another, the surprise and fear of the other. What are therefore the meaning of the shadow and its loss? The shadow denotes the unaccepted side, the inferior side, the negative of personality, but also one of the fundamental archetypes of psychical life. The doctrine of alchemy believeds that it was necessary to extract the sun's shadow to make the philosopher's stone, meaning that it was necessary to overcome what seems negative, dark, heavy, without light, limit, obstacle, to achieving the final resulting process of transformation. Therefore in the human soul like in society it is necessary to overcome what appears dark, to recognize the shadow, to reach the process of transformation both of the individual and the collectivity. In realty only having an experience of darkness can lead us to understand light and in other words understand that shadow is a modality of light, while in general in western society shadow is always an obstacle to be removed. In the end it is through the color of darkness that a world where light and shadow seem to blend and blur at the edges is found, creating new places where the senses can dilate and amplify infinitely and it is then that the color becomes like a shadow and the strange demand to perceive the light alone and darkness alone is revealed. Half-light is instead the term that best describes an unclear situation, but that of a transition between light and dark, that suggests and evokes, but does not say. Initiation to darkness therefore become the road in the shadow or the "therapeutic way to fear", that holds the possibility to integrate and assimilate the dark side and the luminous one of the people and the collectivity and that entails that, like in the relationship between light and shadow, it seems there needs to be a flip of the point of view that we are used to: the sun that burns and annihilates, becomes the evil power and the lunar night takes on healing connotations, calling to rest and meditation, but also to recharge the energy used during the day. It is once again a matter of perception: if people and the collectivity accept unknowingly its energy, the moon, in its connotation of shadow, will be favorable to them, otherwise, removing it, it can become a demonic and violent force. But this removal has been in place for a some time in our society just like innumerable projections of evil that become all the more regressive the more individuals and communities are captured by Shadows, that stretch and shorten according to the degree and intensity of the dulling of the individual and collective consciences. And so the Moon/Shadow, removed and confined to Hades, reappears, according to the times and the ideologies, in various forms and with various names: witches, heretics, Jews, foreigners, enemies, terrorists, poor, deviants, Arabs, crazies, gypsies and so on.
The refusal to face the Shadow has almost always lead societies, without distinction between democratic and totalitarian regimes, to think of themselves as split collective personalities that exorcise the negative aspects of their stories and project them onto other collectivities. But the non recognition of shadow, that escapes any control and is independent from any limit and measure, is destined to produce in time in those societies a process of regression such as to bring them back to a primordial state of unconsciousness and indifference with absolutely disastrous and villainous effects on mankind. Wars, mass murder, genocides of yesterday and today are tragic testimony to this. On the other hand to think that the negative is an integral part of human society means to make a qualitative jump and experience a space-time where the Shadow of unconsciousness meets the light of conscience, giving life each of them to their own collective and community self. Try to think alchemically of the duplicity of sulfur: as the first element of gold it is something that burns and corrodes and is hostile to the matter of the stone, but if it is purified of all impurities, it is the matter of the stone itself. It is precisely the removal of one or both of the built-in components of the collective conscience the reason for which modern societies have produced wars, massacres, genocides, mass murder and violence, perhaps at an unparalleled level in the history of humanity. It is the moving of relevant aspects of our social life into the Shadow of the collective unconscious that causes their regression, but also their unstoppable strengthening, along with feelings of fascinations and seduction. Then the violence and rage, hidden beneath the surface of "good manners" taught to "good kids" that are raised in the world, explode with all their might and the fear permeates us completely until we become, with the loss of consciousness and soul, mechanical automatons. And so the energy of the Shadow is part of the human community, in its various individual and social manifestations, needs to cared for and not ignored, otherwise it become destructive. In other terms, honoring the shadow, our animal side, means to recognize it, accepting this way the dark side of ourselves and not projecting it onto others. Social groups and collectivities should act in the same way, learning to work with their shadows, integrating both the feminine and masculine side in a correct balance of Logos and Eros. But contemporary societies seem to not realize that they have a shadow and not even know where to find it, moreover, in the name of their civilization they tend to project onto others their hate, anger, fear, jealousy and not act on themselves. It's always easier to wear masks and attribute to others qualities and powers disconnected from ourselves instead of taking back the shadows and reintegrating them into the community. The first action leads to the building of a two dimensional society and to lock ourselves in it, refusing relations with the other society, while the second action is much more complex because it intends to work on the recovery of the shadow and, through a slow, but continuous process, work towards its reintegration and creating positive social relations with others, individuals and collectivities. Why then lose energy and let anger do damage in us and around us irreversibly? Because we can't love and be tolerant of others the way they are, since our power complex always wants to change them. Furthermore it can be added that social life in general is a game of shadows in which each group projects it's own on the group that it perceives as its antagonist. It is the aspect of power for power's sake that takes on the meaning of supremacy over another starting from the daily interpersonal relationships between partners, in families, towards children, between teachers and students, between work colleagues, between bosses and subordinates, up to the macro-social dimensions of political regimes. At the base of this exercise of power, at the same time distorted, but widely practiced, is a situation of impotence, difficulty in personal achievements and a desire to block the potential of others. So, when we hold power and, for that very reason, we hold the destiny of many people in our hands, we are dominated by our Shadows that projected, start a diabolic mechanism: we dominate when we are insecure, but as keepers of power we give a sense of safety to individuals, groups and communities, that feel vulnerable.
This way a perverse relationship between dominant and dominated is created of mutual negation and a beast emerges, the most violent part of ourselves, that affects the one and the other differently. On the former, the torturer, it makes it so that the need for power expresses the desire to control others until they are molded, in a delirium of omnipotence, into his own image, humiliating them. In the latter, the victims, the inner beast makes it so that they are willing to give up freedom, not only psychological, in exchange for the promise of being freed from their fears, anxieties and needs. Both social figures are impotent to handle their own reality: the former by excess, the latter by lack. Therefore the central nucleus of the Shadow takes on the form of the assassin or the suicide, in other words that which is destructive in of itself given that the lack of love and relationship with others is substituted in some subjects and social groups with the pleasure of conquering and exercising power in an unscrupulous way and without morals getting in the way. From this point of view a problem that must be addressed is how to prevent political and social institutions from being governed by psychopathic subjects and at the same time, asking ourselves why so many nations are organized in a way that favors the gaining of power of these very subjects. The danger is in the fact that a community in which the members are unable to recognize and unmask the power hungry demagogues runs the risk of being destroyed as a democratic community and replaced by its monstrous side that is after all in each of us. What chances do we have then of opposing and not being seduced? There are no recipes and the bags full of shadows that each individual, each collectivity and each culture brings with it and daily fills are diverse and of different types: some fuller, others emptier in a process of alienation of their own energies that can last until we take off our passivity and react calling back into ourselves our projections that for too long were left to themselves. In the end the peculiarity of the Shadow is in what we put in it: hate, love, anger, sexuality, greed, envy, generosity, power, shame. And so on. Each should recognize his own contents and take out the shadow, without leaving it around, instead feeding on it. Only this way will he gain the lost energy: to eat your own shadow means to let it into ourselves, our most secret world, and in this way, give it the respect it deserves. Accepting the shadow within ourselves we will be able to not "demonize" others and maybe even, when necessary, hold temporary roles of power. The fundamental challenge for society is always to recognize the collective Shadow, which means gaining awareness of its own limits with a critical eye, sense of responsibility and ethical choice. And this awareness needs to be constantly renewed if the community wishes to not be taken hostage by its own shadows that materialize when social institutions, political organizations and social groups separate themselves from the undesirable parts instead of taking care of them. The fact remains that confronting the shadow, in other words the other side of society, cannot be confined to the pathology of social life, but should become an important aspect of the social consciousness of a community with its own symbols, myths and archetypes, so as not to lose its collective identity and build a false identity.

3. A drawing, given to me years ago by the kids of a juvenile detention center, is my starting point for speaking of cities, imagining them as two worlds and two populations that face off and fight over the urban spaces or, also as an enormous hungry organism, with many heads, that swallows ever larger parts of territory with a kind of iconoclastic fury that leads to the paving of everything possible and beyond in a unstoppable frenzy. It's a drawing of two cities: one above, one below; the first is mirrored in the second. The two cities are drawn as if looking in a large mirror that enlarges, deforms, shrinks the images and combines them in a grotesque way so that the conflicts seem to look like riots between tragic and at the same time comical characters or instead, but this only in the city above, the exchange of curtsies and favors between courtiers locked in their palaces. The colors are violent, bright, disquieting and mostly red in the city above and dark blue, purple and black in the city below that is inhabited by the people of the abyss. The city above is inhabited by automatons, the geometric figures of the two dimensional world. If the artist had been Chagall I would have imagines sunny golden house for the world above and black sparkling lunar house for the world below. To one side is a rope ladder with the colors of the rainbow, if the two worlds should decide to have contact. The citizens of the city above seem divided into different layers hierarchically tending to occupy pre-established and possibly homogeneous places; mass-individuals like drops of candle wax that stick and melt into the things upon which they fall, emptied of all vital energy and transformed into conductors of soulless forces, substituted with a simpler and more rational conscience of desire; mass-individuals that the metamorphosis of the world into goods has made incapable of communicating and coming into contact with others. Deep down the mass-individuals can have connections between themselves only when they eliminate from the relationship the feelings, according to the saying "in matters of money it's not about feelings". But even goods have souls and the feelings that are freed are those of the consumer that transforms his own senses into receptors of sale signals: the individual chooses the goods that always offer more but contain less and less. This morbid characteristic of goods marks the consumer's impulse structure making him only satisfied by the act of purchase. And the goods take on more and more human form with the qualities that are specific to the mass-individual, that fashion brings out and thinks that he can buy his own desires. In the city above the power is everywhere and is inescapable because it acts from within the consciences. It is the interiorized law that needs transgressors to be confirmed as a punitive force and needs enemies that guarantee a sort of balance based on the coupling of anxiety/suffering. In fact the enemies seem like the guinea pigs of a behavioral psychology experiment: they follow without knowing it forced itineraries, marked with positive and negative signals, obstacles and easy accesses, buttons and punishments. It's just a matter of seeing how long it takes the guinea pigs to make the journey towards their cages. The citizens of the city below are considered the people of the abyss, the negative and unspoken side of the civilization above; a sort of cast off, social rejection, obscure instinctual force, a Hades of the collective psyche, ready however to affirm their needs and clear a way to their satisfaction. Looking into the subterranean city it is like when one takes the subway and smells the odors of a tired, unhappy humanity, compressed by the weight of daily life and surrounded by dark tunnels, almost timeless. It is a look that focuses on the faces of men and women that enter and exit from cars, pausing for the necessary time to read on every face the story of the day, but also the postures of the bodies, their sizes and then their clothes to figure out the job of those who wear them. But the humanity that most of all catches the eye is that of the poor, the beggars, the stricken with disturbing faces because they are indicators of untold suffering and sadness that in the city above doesn't touch you because it is possible to pass on, not see, be insensitive. Below in the subway you can't pretend to not see, to not hear, to not feel, even if they are often cries without voices and sounds without music. The humanity of the underground seems to live in a collective dream or on the stage of an absurd theatre, as if in reality it we somewhere else, maybe on the surface. The atmosphere in the subway is always of absence as if we were pressed by the problems that arise from the many bodies of men and women that are waiting for their stop. Then the gaze can't hold and needs to go to the surface and get lost in the city above, even though it is inhabited by two dimensional individuals. I was struck, in a book of urban stories, by the reference to cemeteries as places that are mixed between above and below, where stories and people are below and their memories are above. It is important for the memories to remain and continue to give life to people, the same way the markings above the tombs (gardens, monuments, tombstones, inscriptions and so on) are the testimony of those lives. This is a starting point to talk about Milan and the strategies to put together the two cities, of above and below, like in Citta Invisibili "I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made up of fragments mixed with the rest, instants separated by intervals, signals that one sends without knowing who will pick them up".

 

 

 


 
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The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 20/04/2019
 

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