Monday, August 30, 2021

merriggiare

People and things worthy or unworthy of imitation.

Positive Mimesis

I lived in Rome for three years where I learned the fine art of what the French call flâneuring—strolling or wandering around cities. In Italy, it has a very specific counterpart. There’s a tradition of the evening passegiata: you take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood before or after dinner (my favorite one being on the Bay of Naples). More important than the passeggiata, though, is another thing I learned how to do: meriggiare.

Meriggiare is a word coined by the poet Eugenio Montale in his poem of books Ossi di Seppia (Cuttlefish Bones), published in 1925. It comes from the Italian word pomeriggio, which simply means “afternoon.” Montale transformed it into a verb. It means something like “to lazily pass the afternoon,” which I often did by taking 2-hour lunches with friends new and old—complete with intermissions to smoke half of a Garibaldi-brand cigar outside—discussing life’s important questions and enjoying one another’s company.

Meriggiare is the kind of style that I want to cultivate in my writing. Like two friends standing shoulder to shoulder, or sitting shoulder to shoulder at a good pub, taking our time working something out—and having fun doing it.

Learning how to meriggiare was just the kind of anti-mimetic medicine that my American hustle-culture-soul needed at that time. It’s a skill that I think all of us might benefit from cultivating at some level.

Negative Mimesis

The New York Times recently published the piece “New York’s Private Schools Tackle White Privilege. It has not been easy.” The piece makes reference to young entrepreneur Chloé Valdary, who owns a company that tackles antiracism and diversity through a program called “Theory of Enchantment.” (It used to have the proactive slogan “an anti-racism program that isn’t racist.”) In her response to the article on social media, Valdary publicly rebuked the New York Times for taking some of the things they said in her interview out of context—and she cited mimetic theory for helping her form a more nuanced view of the situation, which the journalist who interviewed her didn’t seem to fully appreciate.

From the perspective of mimetic theory, oftentimes being “anti” anything is a recipe for becoming more like that very thing. Or we might say: “Choose your enemies wisely, because you become like them.” The danger of anti-racism training, then, is that by setting itself up as “anti”-racism—as opposed to, say, a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the human person (which Valdary’s program tries to do)—it risks becoming racist in other, more insidious, more hidden ways. Maybe “antiracism” is not the right term, or the right mental model, to be using.

What I’m Reading

I agree with Thomas J. Bevan that the world would benefit from more thoughtful artistic criticism—especially in the new world of Web 3.0 and the burgeoning market for digital art and new forms of digital literature. I highly recommend this essay by Thomas: Critics or Haters, or Why The World Needs More Real Critics. Healthy criticism provides a layer of perception and value that is usually lacking in young, fast-growing markets like crypto.


Have a beautiful week.
Luke

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