382 Anachronistic unicorns + Borromean morality against the fascism of nature

white peacock on Isola Bella


«I have been indulging, in ostentatious display»—Magazine

ABSTRACT: Taking a break from Maphattan + SSES this week, instead reading Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Marco Giovenale + Andrej Nikolaidis whilst bidding a rainy retreat on a lake in northern Italy.

AIM (an ever-capitulating continuation): to keep extending our thought library, per Schopenhauer:

«As the biggest library if it is in disorder is not as useful as a small but well-arranged one, so you may accumulate a vast amount of knowledge but it will be of far less value to you than a much smaller amount if you have not thought it over for yourself; because only through ordering what you know by comparing every truth with every other truth can you take complete possession of your knowledge and get it into your power.»

MATERIALS + METHODS: Read most of Nietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals, but wasn't into so much. We love Nietzsche, only wish he was more interested in the metaphysical realm than the human condition. Granted we should've know by the title + it's pretty much Nietzsche's shtick... but we've never been 1 to concern ourselves w/ morality + guilt + good vs. evil, etc... it all is what it is to us, a gray area.

So we moved on to Schopenhauer, to his Essays and Aphorisms. Like The Genealogy of Morals is to Nietzsche, Schopie's Essays + Aphorisms is the last book he wrote. + like The World as Will and Representation, at the heart of this is the vanity of striving for happiness despite our continually dissatisfied will but fuck it what else are we going to do. Even if we strive for the absence or lack of will or suffering, this will only be replaced by boredom.

«... and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.»

1 thing that bothers us about Schopie tho are his elitist + anthropomorphic projections (essentially saying animals are soulless robots, or at least incapable of higher thought, that what intellect they have is «only for the purpose of discovering and capturing it's food»... not that he wasn't an early advocate of animal rights, but it was as that, as lesser-order animals or pets that we were put here to lord over + protect) ... + this is where we have more to learn from Nietzsche perhaps (who puts humans on the same playing field as animals).

+ then there's Schopie's antisemitism, racism + chauvinism—(in this book he says shit like: «Coitus is chiefly the affair of the man, pregnancy entirely that of the woman» ... tho later (maybe not chauvinistic but just plain stupid to speak in such absolutes) he says men are the holders of 'will' while women are holders of 'intellect')—which is hard to swallow, but guess u just have to take it w/ a grain of salty context of when it was written. The salty context of which, again, only gives creed to Nietzsche (in regards to antisemitism at least) being ahead of his times + for taking a bolder more anti-anti-semitic stance, considering the times he was in + that his sister + many of his colleagues were prominent anti-semites (not that the Nazis wouldn't end up distorting his views for their own devices).

We are born from nothing + when we die we revert back to nothingness. But Schopie is not such the nihilist ... he thinks there is a «germ» in us all capable of giving life to a new being regardless:

«This is the mystery of palingenesis; it reveals to us that all those beings living at the present moment contain with them the actual germ of all which will live in the future, and that these therefore in a certain sense exist already. So that every animal in the full prime of life seems to call to us: 'Why do you lament the transitoriness of living things? How could I exist if all those of my species which came before me had not died?»

On suicide he is fairly ambivalent, xcept to say it's not reasonable to consider it a crime ... which for those times perhaps was somewhat forgiving. Maybe this was cuz this was written in his later years, seems in his early years we remember him being a bit less forgiving on the subject (perhaps cuz his father supposedly commit suicide).

He perhaps goes a bit too far in his rallying against books + reading, saying that «reading is merely a surrogate for thinking for yourself». He compares getting wisdom from books to someone learning about a country by only reading travel guides, which seems an absurd + unfair comparison. + if that's the case then it's an arrogant slap in the face to any 1 reading his books, as if he came up w/ all his ideas in a vacuum (when in fact he appropriated + recapitulated Hindu + Buddhist texts for a western audience).

Some other noteworthy things he said in regards to writing:

«Payment and reserved copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature. Only he who writes entirely for the sake of what he has to say writes anything worth writing.»

+ this that we already quoted in the context of Markson quoting him:

«... he who writes for fools always finds a large public.»

+ on solitude:

«A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.»

Went to the Modern Sky Festival last night in Central Park, to see The Blood Brothers + Liars ... it was weird cuz as we were in line we were like the only non-Asian people. Thought maybe we were at the wrong place til we membered that Modern Sky had some sort of connection w/ China (it's a big festival that's toured around China but this is the 1st show in the U.S.) The 1st act was some really boring Chinese folk singer. The next act—Re-TROS or 'Rebuilding The Rights Of Statues'—who were also from China, but they were pretty awesome ... a bit 80s derivative, not necessarily covering songs but as if they were covering sounds—1 song they sounded just like Echo + the Bunnymen, on another just like Gang of 4 + on another B52s + on the last song they did a good job of channeling LCD Soundsystem (w/Edge guitar thrown in). Veritable chameleons.

Then The Blood Brothers took the stage, who we haven't seen for almost a decade. Just as good as they were then (here's what we had to say about them then + also some photos from when we used partake in such stupidity). Surprising they still have vocal chords left, but guess they've been on hiatus for most of the last decade giving the pipes a rest. When they opened their mouths + let out those banshee screams think it scared most of Chinese crowd away + we easily snuck up to the front. They still got it going on, just an intense energy they pour themselves into, heart + soul.

Then Liars played who were awesome as ever, tho not as good as the other few times we've seen them recently, maybe cuz of the crowd ... + outdoor concerts are always kind of weird. It had been raining all day + just cleared up so the ground was all wet + muddy.

Then William Onyeabor's new band, Atomic Bomb! came on. By this time all the Chinese had left + only a few straggling hipsters remained. Standing in front of us was the guitar player from Yeah Yeah Yeahs which made sense since they headlined the 1st Modern Sky show. Funny we should see him as 1 of the most memorable shows we'd seen on this Summer Stage ground was Yeah x3 in the pouring rain + Karen O somehow made wearing a garbage bag seem fashionable. The same show that DEVO came on before or after, wearing onion skin running shorts + Bob Mothersbaugh's twigs + berries kept flapping around in the open air every time he stroked/dry-humped his guitar (which was like on every beat). Atomic Bomb! dished out some styling afro-pop, not as the bomb as Femi Kuti, who we also saw on this stage ... + perhaps they also suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen.

Now we're in some town called Ranco, on lago Maggiore ... northern Italy. 1st we've been on a plane in almost 6 months. Wish they'd invent a better way to travel. On the plane finished reading Schopie, then read Anachromisms by Marco Giovenale, which was refreshing after 2 books of dated + dense philosophy ... just pure language meaning nothing other than what it is. The title is inspired by Piero Manzoni's (most famous for his 'artist's shit') Achromes ... a series of minimal paintings devoid of narrative, meaning + even color, just pure TEXTure.

an Achrome by Piero Manzoni

The «ana» prefix is a nod to Martino Oberto, which was sort of his mantra that found its way into a lot of his asemicish works.

Martino Oberto

+ of course a play on anachronism—something that belongs in another time other than the 1 it exists. + they were written in Rome, where Marco Giovenale lives. In fact, Giovenale was our Italian tutor in Rome + before we even lived in Rome his visual work (reminiscent of Oberto actually) appeared in Sleepingfish. Anachromisms is his most recent book, that won the 2014 Ahsahta Press chapbook award. It is full of flarfy/kitschy vestiges mined from a contemporary space but at once presented as objects that feel timeless (tho time will be the true jury...). Here's a page taken at random (pg 6 since it's the 6th of the month).

page 6 of Anachromisms

Watched a stupid movie or 2 (Planet of the Apes + Godzilla, cuz if a movie is gonna be stupid may as well at least be entranced by special FX) then started reading The Coming by Andrej Nikolaidis ... which we think we originally got cuz his work stood out in 1 of Dalkey Archive's Best European anthologies.

The Coming mostly takes place in Montenegro, where we visited in 2012 (tho didn't make it as far south to Ulcinj (we were suckers for "Sweaty Stefan" instead)). But like his ancestry (he was born in Bosnia, to Greek/Montenegrin parents), the borders in these Balkan/ex-Yugoslavian States are blurred + subject to change + action extends from Albania up into northern Italy where we are now (or at least to Lake Garda, where we were on our last northern Italy trip) ... after all, at 1 point the Italians had rounded the corner at Trieste... the psychogeography of which must've also inevitably had an influence on Joyce + Ulysses (which he at least started writing in Trieste).

+ speaking of anachronisms ... there's a certain timelessness to these Balkan states that Nikolaidis captures ... it's definitely contemporary (½-written as a series of emails) + suppose u could file under crime/mystery (ala Chandler), but it also has magical realism leanings reminiscent of Milan Kundera, w/ Calvino-ish digressions ... or u could even imagine it adapted by Béla Tarr. There's a certain resigned quality to this region (+ where we are now in Italy) that we've never been able to articulate but think maybe Nikolaidis is touching upon here:

«We've all been at the receiving end of the fascism of nature, whose casualty count far surpasses that of any criminal regime or system we've seen—and every single one of them has been criminal. Instead of pictures of Hitler and Stalin, textbooks which teach schoolchildren about the greatest enemies of humankind should show a picture of a forest in spring.»

... not that we have any idea what this means, but that's the point. Amidst such natural splendor we feel somewhat alienated. Even living in Italy for 3 years didn't close the gap of this detachment. Seems u have to have a history w/ these sorts of places to truly comprehend them. We've always been somewhat fascinated as to why some of the best art in modern Italy was made in fascist or post-fascist times, at least as far as architecture + film. Not the same can be said about Berlusconi, tho he was not so far off from Mussolini. Likewise, a lot of great art came out of the Reagan years. Was it just coincidence?

Should probly contextualize the above quote... just before it, he says:

«His first and greatest misfortune was to be born in this country. [...] We're all victims of our parents' inability to resist the reproductive urge.»

In many ways the Balkan states + Italy could be considered regressive «has been» places + we don't mean that in a bad way ... it's just the way of nature. Great minds built these empires, these buildings, this art. But the generations that have inherited this don't necessarily have anything to do w/ it now. It gets back to what Schopie says about boredom ... (but this is still Nikolaidis speaking):

«... these were men who got married when they didn't know what to do with themselves, and when they didn't know what to do with the marriage—they had children; in the end they died, but only after they'd become religious and turned for help to the world's oldest breakdown assistance service: the Church. You of all people, who maintained that the most intelligent, sophisticated and sensitive people doubted, re-examined and repented: they bequeathed us art and philosophy, but not progeny. It was the others who multiplied. Creatives died in loneliness, while the others produced herds of offspring. Humankind was thus the product of the careful selection of the worst.»

This seems to be the natural/pervading order of things. Perhaps Fascism is a way of disrupting this order + really disorder is to thank for the creative output of these times? Or a counter-response to oppression?

Speaking of child-bearing + Milan (where we flew into this morning)—we are a great uncle for the 1st time + our great-nephew is named Milan. The 1st to carry our mother + father's blood to the next generation (into Argentina)—Milan White. But we ourselves are not 1 to multiply progenically. Not that we'll die lonely, but we are not resigned to participate in this default selection process... thankfully we have other brothers contributing to the herd. We are more akin to an ant or honey bee (per Schopie now):

«Its striving to complete and safeguard its works is just as resolute as that of the insect to safeguard its eggs and provide for the brood it will never live to see: it deposits its eggs where it knows they will one day find life and nourishment, and dies contented.»

Back to Nikolaidis, beneath the serene beauty (in the Balkans + Italy), there's a subtext of brutality, sometimes comical, other times matter of fact. Like this, the fate of a hungry cow taken to grazing on a vertical slope (not unlike this cow that we took a photo of in Montenegro):

«Where many cows do not venture, one will boldly go. And that cow fell. The poor animal tried to land on its legs but the bones broke from the impact and were jutting out of open fractures on its legs. A bloody trail led from the place of the fall to where it now lay at the end of its tether, with no more strength to move.»

+ which point the neighbors start to gather w/ rusty knives, axes, chainsaws + wheelbarrows to dismember the cow ... but it's the futility of human existence via procreation that Nikolaidis returns to again + again:

«And so the tragedy goes on without end, and generations are sacrificed in vain because their birth was a blunder which rectified nothing.»

Ranco, Italy (where we are writing from)

It has been raining non-stop since we got here. Nevertheless, walked to Angera to see if we coud find a boat or some way to get around the lake. We'd seen a cryptic boat schedule w/ all sorts of caveats + disclaimers + the boat seemed to only stop in our town when the stars were in alignment. Angera seemed to have a few more options, but still depended on the day, the month, the weather, your horoscope sign, etc. Walked/ran the few miles in the rain + as we approached the outskirts we saw a boat coming across the lake in the distance so we sprinted for it. Some woman saw us + started waving her arms at the boat. She asked where we wanted to go + we said Santa Caterina just cuz we saw a poster or something somewhere + seemed interesting. As we were getting on the boat, we heard her telling the pilot Santa Caterina, but they said (in Italian) 'but this boat doesn't stop there'. So we looked at her + asked if it went or not + she didn't look so sure but said yes. Not that we cared 1 way or another where we ended up.

on the other side of the lake w/ Belgirate in our wake

We were the only 1 on this big ferry boat except for 4 or 5 crew men dressed like they were in the Italian Navy. We chugged across the lake + at various places idled off-shore waiting to see if any 1 waved their arms for them to stop + no 1 ever did. We approached some place we thought looked like Santa Caterina + then proceeded to go right by it.... but 1 of the crew told us not to worry, that we'd go there after. We stopped at a bigger town (Stresa) + no 1 got on + then we turned back + went across to Santa Caterina del Sasso ... felt bad this whole trip was for me (+ only cost a few euros).

the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

Santa Caterina is this old hermitage built into the side of a cliff. Poked around the complex of buildings hugging the side of the cliff ... there was no 1 else there, not even some 1 that worked there ... so we just started wandering around walking thru doors. Saw a few nuns but they just ignored us.

inside the hermitage


the chapel


mish-mash of reliquaries

There were also a bunch of fine frescoes that had been hidden under lime + only recently discovered in the 70s .. but the lighting was bad + our photos didn't turn out. Then we started to go up these stairs up the mountain but in the distance saw a boat approaching + figured we'd better take any opportunity we could for a boat. Ran down just in time. Again, we were the only 1 on the boat.

on the ferry

Got off on the next stop, Stresa ... a bigger town. Had a coffee + saw a poster for Isola Bella (how stupid a name is that?) + asked the ticket lady when the next boat was + she pointed to 1 that was about to leave. So we ran + hopped on it. This 1 had a few people on it, but still mostly empty.

Isola Bella


Isola Bella looking at Isola Pescatore

But by the time we got to Isola Bella (the main Borromean island) there were tons of tourists, mostly old Germans. Forgot that October is the month that all the Germans go on vacation (must have something to do w/ Oktoberfest ... either that or they don't want to travel in August when all the Italians are travelling).

street art on Isola Bella



The main feature of Isola Bella is this insanely massive + ostentatious palace chock full of tacky art that 1 of the princely dudes of the house of Borromeo built for his wife. It was weird cuz ½ the time we were pushing our way thru some obnoxious German tour groups completely blocking the way or we had the place all to ourselves.

1 of many gaudy-awful rooms


posh pomp


the saddle room (1 of the grotto rooms)


more ostentatious display


in the tapestry room


some sort of jaguar creature eating the butt of a lion


lobster + unicorn impaling lion




in the gardens

And then into the gardens which were ridiculously garish ... a tacky monument to people that have so much wealth they don't know what to do w/ it. This is what we were talking about above ... we'd take austere fascist architecture over this kitschy baroque shit.

Took a boat back to Stresa + had lunch (buffalo mozz + pizza) + walked around Stresa some. Along the waterfront are these insanely posh hotels mixed w/ these big palatial buildings in various state of unkempt ruin w/ plants all over them. Unfortunately the ruined palaces were fenced off otherwise they'd make for some good photos inside.

Stresa harbor


virgin at the mouth of the harbor


waterlogged billboard

palatial ruin


back to nature



Got back to the port but our luck had run out w/ the boats ... nothing going anywhere for a few hours (siesta time). So we flagged down some random city bus headed south (we don't have a guidebook or even a map + had the slightest idea where anything was). The bus was packed full of rowdy school kids. We were standing right in front so when we could see we were even w/ the town where we were staying on the other side of the lake we got off (in Arona).

There we saw the ruins of this castle way up on these cliffs. So we found a steep trail + went up (still raining at this point, quite steadily). Guess it's the ruins of a castle also built by the House of Borromeo, called La Rocca. Evidently Napoleon was jealous + didn't want enemies living in + destroyed it. Again, we were the only 1s there (xcept for 3 goats) + no 1 even working there, but there was a self-guided mostra whose lights switched on automatically when we walked thru the door. Looking now on the internet guess there's a big bronze statue (the 2nd biggest in the world in fact, the 1st being Lady Liberty back home) in Arona but we somehow missed it.

Looking down at Arona from La Rocca


ruins of La Rocca

Found the harbor in Arona but there were only boats to Angera ... just us + more school kids wearing suits, some we recognized from the bus. From Angera we walked/ran the few miles back to Ranco. By this time it was pretty much a steady downpour + we were drenched when we got back. Fortunately—in typical Italian fashion—this hotel has a spa w/ turkish bath + sauna, etc. super cheesy w/ new age music piped in+ gross hairy guys lounging around naked (even tho it was co-ed spa).

at this point we have enough of these Italian road mirror photos to make a book (this 1 in Stresa)


... + this 1 in Ranco

For dinner ate in the hotel w/ our better ½'s colleagues (she's here for some sort of retreat) ... definitely a retreat like atmosphere ... educated intellectuals from all over the world philosophizing + pontificating + drinking fine Piedmont wines (tho technically we are in the Lombardy region). Now (the next day) it's still dreary + rainy w/ nothing but rain in the forecast ...

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