Quando si studiava filosofia nelle scuole.
Imagine that you are having your walk in a books’ graveyard. There are moments when you leaf through the pages of a book perceiving an aftertaste sealed within the frame of the page. In this sunny day spent among the dusts of shelves, you run into a chapter, whose title ran something like “Quando si studiava filosofia nelle scuole” or maybe “Cronaca di un futuro già passato.” It goes without saying that you do not speak Italian, but have heard of it, and used even some words sometimes on rare occasions, in any case, you understand immediately that those lines has been written in Italian.
You had spent really a bad day yesterday, worried for nothing and everything, how it happens in autumn to some, and to you always during this time of the year, when the Christmas Holidays are approaching and you are wasted between moments, falling in the scar between the years. There is no reason for you to hurry up. On some level of your unconscious you had deliberately decided to make of this day a sort of threshold night, to open the door and pass through, if it is the case. There is a chair next to the window. The sky is white as ever. So you sit and try to decode the message on the paper. Study, philosophy, chronic, future. It might mean everything. You did not see any dictionary apart from the Latin-Italian, so you decide to grasp it, just because a dictionary is better than nothing. Having found the word “quando” you read: “cum, ubi, ut.” There are many other words, but these are the only conjunctions. Neither of those words suggest anything to you. “Scuola” brings you instead to “ludus, schola” and this makes you immediately realize that “scuola” must mean “school.” These are all the info you could get, half an hour is already gone, removed between the names on the dictionary and thoughts hanging like fake curtains between you and the window. Gray-green meadows outside.
“Quando si studiava filosofia nelle scuole” – you mumble by yourself and not even the space takes note of your saying. The page appears fragile and mute at once, like the sound through your throat, so you take off your glass and read loud again, as if you were able to read Italian: “Quando” – Maybe it’s not a perfect Italian pronunciation but it works quite fine, it sounds good, you wonder what it means. “Quando” – you continue – “si studiava” – you breathe and wait, like if some sense might fall on you at any moment – “filosofia” – you say and it sounds English – “nelle scuole.” You must have said the last word like one could talk a old shoe. It does not make any sense.
It’s six, time of returning, displacing moment. The sky is opaque white, pale like a thought not yet ultimate. Your steps are the only noise in the room, all the others are flattened down by the window – it seems to you.
You have never studied philosophy, but you have often heard about it. One could say that you are simply not confident with philosophy. There are things you learned and others you never did, hard to say why, I guess it just happens. Like playing the piano. Have I ever learned? It never happened, I do not know exactly why, just because I have never had a sister or a grandmother who would play it, or some reason as meaningless. I played basketball instead, exactly because my sister would play, and before her, the Americans had come with chocolates and basketballs which they left in my hometown as a forgotten game or an uncanny footprint, as you prefer. It depends on when and where, “why” does not matter really. What? The way things take. I have always been scared of someone asking me “why?” Reasons and justifications are so close sometimes, and who asked me “why” often wanted to give me or deny some authorization, which I had never asked for. Why wants a lie. I’m much braver with silence.
I studied philosophy in school, though. In August, at the end of August, you discover your new books, not books like any other, but the Books, the one which divide knowledge in subjects, and subjects divide the year in months, exams, Monday to Saturday, and the Sundays apart. These Books, in the beginning enigmatic, would become more and more familiar during the year, till a point when you could have found your book next to the bed in the dark just touching the consistence of the paper. I got my first Book of Philosophy when I entered my eleventh class, it would talk of the Pre-Socratics and Plato and most of it was about Greek thinkers. The cover was green, a shade of pale, which did not change either in the twelfth on in the last class, while the face on it did, but I wouldn’t be able to say how it exactly transformed the cover, or to whom the faces belonged. They must have been philosophers, whatever that means.
I knew that I would have studied philosophy, a bit the way I knew that you learn mathematics and Italian in the school. Religion had always been a suspicious subject, you would never know if you had to study it or could have done without, in any case it was not important, you would never repeat the year because of Religion, everybody knew it. Philosophy was something different, not as important as mathematics, but still a serious subject.
And what was it all about? Is it easy to image a world where one studies philosophy in the school and one world where one does not? The world where one does not study philosophy must struggle quite a lot to imagine the other one, I suspect. One could envision something like: learning science fiction as a compulsory subject in the school. It would make sense, but philosophy is not exactly like science fiction, because it aimed at truth, most of the time. And science fiction is not clearly about truth, most of the time. Or you could think of logic, instrumental thinking, training of rational thought, and it makes sense to waste time with it. But most of the philosophers were talking of something else, most of the time. They were not so concerned with training or logic, most of the time. You still do not have an answer to what it must be like, to study philosophy in the school, and why.
Are there still philosophers nowadays? What do they do? What did they do when they existed? Why had one to study them in the school? Why?
You might sit and wonder, glancing at the window, where the vapor retreats against the sky. The meadows won’t bring you far. Why. You mumble stumbling against your thought, like a slippery of the eyelid to the ceiling. You see dust falling like snowflakes trembling around the lamp. They are not butterflies, are they? They help your thought around. A bee entered the room, God knows from where. You move toward the table, but your thought falls up once again. “Why?” You say to yourselves. You don’t remember.
You might start crying and screaming “why” in the middle of the room now – yes, that is something you can do – and, as it has been said – it would fit well with your personality, but would a cream colored page written in Italian answer to you? Why was it left to you? Why does not it talk English? Only occasional thoughts, like sleeping around in unknown beds, there is not much more than that, which could answer to that “why?”
This generation has never ceased to beckon “whys” to the previous. It’s a “why” which does not have much to do with anything, it returns from nowhere coming from nowhere, this precise spot. Being born.
I am e generation older, having my grandmother died, so I should give in at least one of my “whys.” Were the Books meant to pacify? Can you tell me what you understood? All sounds still too familiar to me.
You read, it’s in Livorno, 1983.