Of all the measures taken during this emergency, the ban on funeral services is among the most dehumanizing.
In the name of what idea of “life” have these measures been taken? In the prevailing rhetoric of these past few weeks, life has been reduced almost entirely to the survival of the body, to the detriment of any other dimension of it. In this there is a very strong thanatophobic connotation (from the Greek Thanatos, or death), a morbid fear of dying.
Thanatophobia has permeated our society for decades. Already in 1975, the historian Philippe Ariès, in his landmark History of Death in the West, noted that death, in capitalist societies, had been “domesticated”, bureaucratized, partly deritualized and separated as much as possible from the living, in order to “spare […] society the disturbance and too strong emotion” of dying, and maintain the idea that life “is always happy, or at least must always look like it”.
To this end, he continues, it was strategic “to shift the site where we die. We no longer die at home, among family members, we die at the hospital, alone […] because it has become inconvenient to die at home”. Society, he said, must “realize as little as possible that death has occurred”. This is why many rituals related to dying are now considered embarrassing and in a phase of disuse.
Even before the state of emergency we are experiencing, the rituality of dying had been reduced to a minimum. That is why we have always been so impressed by the manifestations of its re-emergence. Think of the worldwide success of a film like The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand.
Forty-five years ago, Ariès wrote: “no one has the strength or patience to wait for weeks for a moment [death, Editor’s note] that has lost its meaning”. And what does the 2003 Canadian film depict if not a group of people waiting for weeks – in a context of conviviality and re-emerging secular rituality – the passing of a friend?
Eight years ago we undertook, together with many others, to set up an environment of conviviality and secular rituality around a dear friend and companion, Stefano Tassinari, in the weeks leading up to his death and in the ceremonies that followed. Much of our questioning on this subject dates back to that time.
If the rituality linked to dying was already reduced to a minimum, the ban on attending the funeral of a loved one had finally annihilated it.
Back on March 25th we shared a beautiful letter from a parish priest from Reggio, Don Paolo Tondelli, who was dismayed at the scenes he had to witness:
And so I find myself standing in front of the cemetery, with three children of a widowed mother who died alone at the hospital because the present situation does not allow for the assistance of the sick. They cannot enter the cemetery, the measures adopted do not allow it. So they cry: they couldn’t say goodbye to their mother when she gave up living, they can’t say goodbye to her even now while she is being buried. We stop at the cemetery gate, in the street, I am bitter and angry inside, I have a strong thought: even a dog is not taken to the grave like this. I think we have exaggerated for a moment in applying the rules in this way, we are witnessing a dehumanization of essential moments in the life of every person; as a Christian, as a citizen I cannot remain silent […] I say to myself: we are trying to defend life, but we are running the risk of not conserving the mystery that is so closely linked to it.
This “mystery” is not the exclusive prerogative of the Christian faith nor of those possessing a religious sensibility, since it does not necessarily coincide with the belief in the immortal soul or anything else, but something that we all ask ourselves, when we ask, ‘what does it mean to live?’ ‘What distinguishes living from merely moving on or simply not dying?
That said, those who are believers and observers have experienced the suspension of ritual ceremonies – including funeral masses – as an attack on their form of life. It is no coincidence that among the examples of clandestine organization that we have heard about these days, there is the catacombal continuation of Christian public life.
We have direct evidence that in many parishes the faithful continued to attend mass, despite the signs on the doors saying they were suspended. One finds the “hard core” of the parishioners in the refectory of the convent, or in the rectory, or in the sacristy and in some cases in the church. Twenty, thirty people, summoned by word of mouth. In particular last Thursday, for the Missa in coena Domini.
The same can be said of funerals. In this case as well we have direct testimonies of priests who officiated small rites, with close family members, without publicity.
In the past few days, we have identified three types of disobedience to some of the stupidest and most inhumane features of the lock-down.
The individual gesture is often invisible but occasionally it is showy, as in the case of that runner on the deserted beach of Pescara, hunted by security guards for no reason that has any epidemiological basis. The video went viral, and had the effect of demonstrating the absurdity of certain rules and their obtuse application.
Continuing to run was, objectively and in its outcome, a very effective performance, an action of resistance and “conflictual theatre”. Continuing to run distinguishes qualitatively that episode from the many others which offer “only” further evidence of repression. As Luigi Chiarella “Yamunin” wrote, the video brings to mind,
…a passage from Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti on grasping, which is indeed a gesture of the hand but also and above all is ‘the decisive act of power where it manifests itself in the most evident way, from the most remote times, among animals and among men’. Later, he adds – and here comes the part pertinent to the episode of the runner – that ‘there is nevertheless a second powerful gesture, certainly no less essential even if not so radiant. Sometimes one forgets, under the grandiose impression aroused by grasping, the existence of a parallel and almost equally important action: not letting oneself be grasped”. The video […] reminded me how powerful and liberating it is not to let yourself be caught. Then I don’t forget that if you run away you do it to come back with new weapons, but in the meantime you must not let yourself be grabbed.
Clandestine group disobedience
These are the practices of the parishioners who organize themselves to go to mass on the sly, of the family members of a dearly departed person who agree with the parish priest to officiate a funeral rite… but also of the groups who continue in one way or another to hold meetings, of the bands who continue to rehearse, and of the parents who organize themselves together with a teacher to retrieve their children’s school books. It’s an episode that happened in a city in Emilia, which we recounted a few days ago.
In order to retrieve the books from a first grade school that had been left at school for the last month, a teacher came to the school, took the books out hidden in a shopping cart, and entrusted them to two parents who live near a baker and a convenience store respectively, so that the other parents could go and pick them up with the “cover” of buying groceries, avoiding possible fines. The books were given to the individual parents by lowering them with a rope from a small balcony and stuffed into shopping bags or between loaves of bread, as if they were hand grenades for the Resistance. In this way those children will at least be able to follow the program on the book with the teacher in tele-education, and the parents will be able to have support for the inevitable homeschooling.
After a phase of shock in which unconditional obedience and mutual guilt prevailed, sectors of civil society – and even “interzone” between institutions and civil society – are reorganizing themselves “in hiding”. In this reorganization it is implicit that certain restrictions are considered incongruous, irrational, indiscriminately punitive.
Furthermore: at the beginning of the emergency, parental chats were, in general, among the worst hotbeds of panic, culture of suspicion, toxic voice messages, calls for denunciation. The fact that now some of them are also being used to circumvent delusional prohibitions – why shouldn’t a teacher be able to retrieve the textbooks left in the classroom? why should a dad or a mom have to resort to subterfuge, self-certification, etc. to retrieve those books? – is yet another proof that the “mood” has changed.
Provocative group disobedience
The performance of the trio from Rimini – a man and two women – who had sex in public places and put the videos online, accompanied with insults hurled at the police, is part of this rarefied case history.
The police have since held a grudge against the case, as exemplified by their official social channels.
The only thing missing from this catalog of disobedience is, of course…
Claimed group disobedience
Here we have in mind visible, and no longer merely clandestine collective disobedience.
For a moment we feared that the fascists would be the first to bring it into play. Forza Nuova attempted to leverage the dismay of believers in the prospect of an Easter “behind closed doors,” and without the Via Crucis. However, when leaflets circulated calling for a procession to St. Peter’s Basilica tomorrow (Sunday 4.12), accompanied by mottos such as “In hoc signo vinces” and “Rome will not know an Easter without Christ”, they were dismayed to find that it wasn’t the Fascists who were behind them. Instead, it was our comrades and friends from Radio Onda Rossa and the Roman liberatory movement who, this morning, in S. Lorenzo, greeted Salvatore Ricciardi with what in effect became the first political demonstration in the streets since the beginning of the emergency.
Salvatore Ricciardi, 80 years old, was a pillar of the Roman antagonist left. A former political prisoner, for many years he was involved in fights inside prisons and against prison conditions. He did so in a number of books and countless broadcasts on Radio Onda Rossa, which yesterday dedicated a moving four-hour live special to him. He continued to do so until even a few days ago, on his blog Contromaelstrom, writing about imprisonment and coronavirus.
Headlines about this morning’s events can already be read in the mainstream press. A precise chronicle, accompanied by some valuable remarks, can be heard in this phone call from an editor of Radio Onda Rossa [here]. Among other things, our comrade points out: “here there are rows of people standing in front of the butchers shop for days and days, yet we cannot even bid farewell to the dead? […] We’re in the open air, while in Rome there’s not even a requirement to wear a mask and yet many people had masks, and there were only a few people anyway”…Yet the police still threatened to use a water cannon to disperse a funeral ritual. The part of the district where the seditious gathering took place was closed and those present were detained by police.
During this emergency, we’ve seen so many surreal scenes – today, to offer just one example, a helicopter took to the sky, wasting palates of public money, in pursuit of a single citizen walking on a Sicilian beach – and even still, this morning’s apex had not yet been reached.
For our part, we say kudos and solidarity to those who run, and are out running great risks to claim their right to live together – in public space that they have always crossed with their bodies and filled with their lives – out of pain and mourning for the loss of Salvo, but also out of happiness for having had him as a friend and companion.
“Because the bodies will return to occupy the streets. Because without the bodies there is no Liberation.”
That’s what we were writing yesterday, taking up the “Song of el-‘Aqila Camp”. We reaffirm our belief that it will happen. And the government fears it too: is it by chance that just today Minister Lamorgese warned against “hotbeds of extremist speech”?
In her telephone interview, the Radio Onda Rossa editor says that the current situation, in essence, could last a year and a half. Those in power would like it to be a year and a half without the possibility of protest. They are prepared to use health regulations to prevent collective protests and struggles. Managing the recession with sub iudice civil rights is ideal for those in power.
It is right to disobey absurd rules
We should point out once again that, whilst keeping a population under house arrest, while prohibiting funerals, and de jure or de facto preventing anyone from taking a breath of fresh air – which is almost a unique phenomenon in the West, since only Spain follows us on this – and while shaming individual conduct like jogging, going out “for no reason”, or shopping “too many times”…while this whole little spectacle is going on, Italy remains the European country with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate. Good peace of mind for those who spoke of an “Italian model” to be imitated by other countries.
Who is responsible for such a debacle? It is not a hard question to answer: it was the people who did not establish a medical cordon around Alzano and Nembro in time, because the owner asked them not to; it was those who spread infection in hospitals through an impressive series of negligent decisions; those who turned RSAs and nursing homes into places of mass coronavirus death; and lastly, those who, while all this was happening, diverted public attention toward nonsense and harmless behavior, while pointing the finger at scapegoats. This was blameworthy, even criminal behavior.
Everywhere in the world the coronavirus emergency has presented a golden opportunity to restrict the spaces of freedom, settle accounts with unwelcome social movements, profit from the behavior to which the population is forced, and restructure to the detriment of the weakest.
Italy adds to all this its standard surfeit of irrational ravings. The exceptionality of our “model” of emergency management lies in its complete overturning of scientific logic. For it is one thing to impose – for good (Sweden) or for bad (another country at random) – physical distancing as a necessary measure to reduce the possibility of contagion; it is quite another to lock the population in their homes and prevent them from leaving except for reasons verified by police authorities. The jump from one to the other imposed itself alongside the idea – also unfounded – that one is safe from the virus while “indoors”, whereas “outdoors” one is in danger.
Everything we know about this virus tells us exactly the opposite, namely that the chances of contracting it in the open air are lower, and if you keep your distance even almost zero, compared to indoors. On the basis of this self-evidence, the vast majority of countries affected by the pandemic not only did not consider it necessary to prevent people from going out into the open air generally, as they did in France, but in some cases even advised against it.
In Italy, this radius is, at best, two hundred meters from home, but there are municipalities and regions that have reduced it to zero meters. For those who live in the city, such a radius is easily equivalent to half a block of asphalt roads, which are much more crowded than in the open space outside the city, if it could be reached. For those who live in the countryside, however, or in sparsely populated areas, a radius of two hundred meters is equally absurd, since the probability of meeting someone and having to approach them is infinitely lower than in an urban center.
Not only that: we have seen that very few countries have introduced the obligation to justify their presence outdoors by authorizations, certificates, and receipts, even calculating the distance from home using Google Maps. This is also an important step: it means putting citizens at the mercy of law enforcement agencies.
We have recorded cases of hypertensive people, with a medical prescription recommending daily exercise for health reasons, fined €500; or people fined because they were walking with their pregnant partner, to whom the doctor had recommended walking. The list of abuses and idiocies would be long, and one may consult our website for further examples.
Legal uncertainty, the arbitrariness of police forces, the illogical limitation of behavior that presents no danger to anyone, are all essential elements of the police state.
Having to respect an illogical, irrational norm is the exercise of obedience and submission par excellence.
It will never be “too soon” to rebel against such obligations.
It must be done, before it’s too late.
Translated by Ill Will