Wrong Face


Italy’s former finance minister Giulio Tremonti has just published a book on the economic crisis. The book is called “Uscita di Sicurezza”, emergency exit. Tremonti has been finance minister in (at least, I can’t remember exactly, Freud will tell you why) two Silvio Berlusconi’s governments, and is in fact responsible for the actual crisis not only of Italian finances, but above all of huge cuts on welfare and education. In the past four years he had an influence on the government similar to that of French ministres des Finances during the eighteenth century (and just before the Revolution).

As soon as I spotted the cover of his book, I thought that whomever designed the cover is a) a genius or b) an incompetent or c) a fascist.

As my master would say, font types have a specific force, and can help (or mislead) the comprehension of the text. So if you’re designing the cover for a book on the eighteenth century Italian culture, is better if you use a coeval fontface such as that designed by Giambattista Bodoni. But if the book is about the 20th century avant-garde, A Bodonian font will confuse and mislead the reader (and buyer). Much better to use a character designed by Herbert Bayer such as the Architype Bayer.

So why the designer would be a genius, or a fascist, or an incompetent? Because fonts bring also history with them. And if you have even a slight visual memory of something related to Fascism, you will immediately link Tremonti’s book to a poster like this. Now, if the designer wanted to criticise Tremonti, he’s a genius, because he did it picking up the right (wrong) fontface. If he’s not, he’s either a fascist or an incompetent. incompetency can be subtle, because he can also claim the font was used before Fascism (I suppose you can find similar fontfaces in art deco). But, even if that is true, it is also true that you should always consider the collective (visual) memory you’re dealing with. However, the final message is that Tremonti is a fascist. And as we were talking about incompetent people, the topic seems to fit perfectly in all perspectives.

Coming back

The humble Editor apologises to his worthy Readers for the guilty Silence of the past week. His mind has been distracted by several Practical and awfully Bureaucratic papers, that will hopefully allow him to continue his humble service for a long time. 

You probably remember the 23things: well, the 2nd thing of 23things explained how to publish online the visual materials supporting your talk (commonly and wrongly defined as Power Point). Now, a couple of years ago, while working as a graphic designer, I had to prepare some layout for our clients. I had to use Power Point, of course. And trying to make Powerpoint what you want him to make, as for every single software produced by Microsoft, is really tough stuff. It would never make the thing you want, unless you’re a programmer of C++ (or similar), and in that case you’re probably doing something more interesting than preparing power point layouts for your clients.

To make a long story short: after that experience, I decided never to use Power point again, and to reduce my contacts with the Microsoft monster (yes, I don’t like at all Warwick email, yes I thing their wasting tons of money, yes I use a Mac, but I believe in the holiness of the Penguin).

Anyway, thanks to my friend Nicola, who has just started his PhD at the Philosophy department, and with whom I shared the exciting two workshops on Academic Presentations, I discovered Prezi.

As far as I can see, it is portable (you can work online), easy to share and allows you to work on the same presentation in group. Again, the graphic stuff is amazing: basically, you have an enormous sheet and you can zoom in, zoom out, focus on something particular etc. And as far as I can see it uses vector imaging, so no pixelishness around anymore (of course, you have still to take care of the images you upload). It is perfect especially if you work on conceptual maps, because you can lead your public to follow them, no matter how complex they are (though, of course, the best maps are the simple ones).

In my case, I had to prepare a 5min presentation, so I used it “linearly”, but the possibilities are, well, infinite.

[edit at 00:53] So, the embedding is not working very well… I am linking my prezi presentation here, and tomorrow, I promise, I will work around the problem…

[edit at 01:03] Ah, the code… Here is the solution to embed prezi on wordpress.com. I was looking for a PhD student blog that give me the tip, but I lost it in the googlefuzzing.

Meta I

This blog is proudly “member” of 23 things for the Digital Professional, a course for PhD students who want to improve their online presence and impact. It is organised by the Wolfson Research Exchange, where I spend most of my life in these days. You can see in the 23 things blog that we just arrived to thing n. 11 (of 23 things). I tried most of them (well, some of them take lots of time, but I promise I will try them). Some ideas are really really useful: for instance, things 4 (of 23 things), explains how to set up rss feeds from scientific journals. Now, wordpress.com has a plugin that allows you to publish those feeds in the sidebar of your blog. I did it with two eighteenth century journals.  I must confess I am really missing the “real” wordpress, as it offers much more opportunities with rss feeds (and everything else).

Now the pars destruens: Rss feeds are really useful to get informations and data from providers that publish regularly and/or frequently. The problem with academic journals is… well, that at their best they publish three issues per year. So you have an RSS feed on your homepage that… does not publish anything for months.

What is the solution? You can use a rss mixer. [nerdish comment: When I started using something similar, back in 2005 (GASP), it was one of the newest stuff you could have. I was building up a website based on Mambo (it was really really fresh stuff that too) and worked perfectly. Now, after seven years, most of them are offline. However, I still think are good ideas]

So, a rss feeds merger does exactly this: you decide the feeds from multiple sources you want to read and publish, give the site a list, and the site will give you a new rss feed that MERGES all of them. Check on Feedkiller, Feedfeeds or blogsieve. Now I want to go home, so I will set up my rss readers on calebwilliams later this week.

Ah, the purpose of this post. The 23 things is not only a course online where we can learn something else, we are also required to talk about the 23 things. I have some psychological problems doing this, because talking about IT and similar stimulates my pars nerduens. But anyway, I think it could be useful also for the others.

Nerdish postscriptum. As metadiscussion seems really important, I made the links to the 23 things blog a bit redundant. Google crawlers wouldn’t care, but probably Ping or Yahoo ones will.

Maps, graphs, and Enlightenment: reprise


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Republic of Letters

I had just stopped looking for badwords on google’s nGrams, when I found this project.
I can’t say if I am more interested in the quantitative aspect of it, or in that related to visualization.
It’s not by chance is based at Stanford, you can actually feel how Morettish (or is it Stanfordish?)  it is.

By the way, in this case, you can see how the row data are used by scholars. The main data comes from the correspondance between intellectuals in Eighteenth-century, and the map focuses on the international and geographical exchanges related to it.
I have found also an interesting post that explains the technology of data-mining  involved and a Stanford’s video giving a general overview of the project.

The title of the video, Tracking 18th-century “social network” through letters, is probably too synthetic, as it should be translated as Tracking 18th-century “social network” of intellectuals mostly coming from the upper class through letters, (not to mention the fact that the same letters were, for some reasons, saved from oblivion).

Anyway, besides the usual socio-historical critic (and I feel quite tired to stress all the time on this issue) , the tool is a powerful one, as you can imagine. Especially when you think about the importance of Geneve in the intellectual exchange. It would be amazing to make a similar data-mapping of – for instance – the letters and books sent from and to the Societé Tipographique of Neuchâtel, that was responsible of several edition of banned books in the 18th century (yes indeed, I am quoting the marvelous study by Darnton) [in fact, I can’t remember if Darnton himself presented a Map in his book] or, even more interesting, of the Tipografia Remondini from Bassano del Grappa.

As for the visualization of data, have a look at the Vis Group from… Stanford again, or much more interesting for us Human(ist)s, the toolingup for Digital Humanities centre (or project?).

Culturomics, Moretti, and the anxiety of numbers


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I must confess I am kind of addicted to ted talks. I have a weakness for witty talks. Yesterday I’ve found this talk (I was just looking on the “funny” tag list)

Basically, these Harvard guys worked on a huge amount of information from google’s books, observing trends in the frequency of words and/or phrases and/or names. They called it culturomics, and wrote a foxy article on Science about it, called Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. In its usual googlesque way, Google decided to publicize the idea and now everybody can do his/her query and produce a foxy diagram about it. Dommage, you can’t make a search on Italian books.

So I could only look at the presence of Goldoni and Chiari in France from 1700 to 1900. I just did it for fun and because I was curious. If you click on dates the system redirects you to the real google books’ query. Unfortunately, you can’t avoid the system making mistakes: “…San Pietro. Chiari orizzonti…” will be counted as well as the right quotation of the author.

Talking about quantitative literature I must mention mr. Franco Moretti. Find his three articles about how to use quantitative history, geography and evolutionary theory in studying literature in the New Left Review, with a reply by Christopher Prendergast. Moretti soon after collected them in a book.

I was actually thinking to write a huge pars destruens against Harvard’s bunch and Moretti, but I will do it later, as soon as I stop looking at the frequency of bad words and curses and making charts of it.

Entertainment: guess who I am?

La veneziana di spirito

From Pietro Chiari’s La Viniziana di spirito: O sia Le avventure d’una Viniziana ben nata, scritte da lei medesima, e ridotte in altrettante massime le più giovevoli a formare una donna di spirito , pubblicate dall’abate Pietro Chiari Bresciano, Poeta di S.A.R. il Sig. Duca di Modana [sic], Venezia e Parma: nella Stamperia di Filippo Carmignani, published in 1762 [thanks God google books has the first edition].

Entertainment. Chiari’s novels had to be sollazzevoli, piacevoli. Through pleasure, he would  convey “philosophical” ideas to his readers. Italian literary establishment never forgave him for this choice.

Hedonism was not allowed. Chiari’s language was bad, not “balanced” at all. His stories lacked of structure, unity, even logic. Usually he would tell strange stories about strange women who did not accept their social role, who dressed up as men and often behave as men. Even more “dangerous”, most of Chiari’s readers were women, or (as someone complained) servants or young people. Of course, this was a common concern in eighteenth-century Europe, see – just to pick up one – Licensing entertainment: the elevation of novel reading in Britain, 1684-1750 by William B. Warner. In Britain (and in France later), the market won the war against the literary establishment. Writers had to write what readers wanted to read, as the sacred supply and demand rule says (yes, I know, I was linking Wikipedia but then I found a much more funny Investopedia). In Venice had an unlikely end. The market was defeated, no matter what readers wanted. Chiari, who was read and published all around Italy – often through unauthorised editions – was doomed to be forgotten and/or despised until today. Piazza, his literary “pupil”, suffered the same fate. That is one of the reasons why nobody, even in Italy, knows two authors who wrote at least 70 novels in 18th century.

the way through doors via bookcoverarchive

Back to our engraving: what is the best way to start an entertaining book – one of those books people buy and read because they want to have fun? Probably, opening it with a game, for instance, with a visual riddle, a rebus: who I am? In this way, you catch their attention since the very beginning. So, my question is: the function of the engraving at the beginning of Chiari’s book is in any way similar to that of a modern cover book? In both cases, we’re talking about catching attention, and inviting reader to keep on reading.

Entertaining, isn’t?

leave and comeback

Italian immigrants

A new start. A new PhD at Warwick Uni.
I will work on criminals, the Italian ones this time. Which is funny: you spend three years studying French and English authors of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century, in Italy. Then move to UK and start working on Italian literature.

The project is based on slight, small evidences, pieces of information left out of the Canon (Yes, it is Canon with Capital C). I will write more about it later.

Aritmetica della critica


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Dopo lunghissima discussione su Lipperatura, in cui ci si è lanciati tomi e tomi di accuse su chi legge cosa e perché, un riassunto di alcune parole chiave usate. Straordinaria e da trattare a parte la tendenza alla metadiscussione: dopo un centinaio di messaggi centrati più o meno sull’argomento giusto, si finisce – come in tutti i forum – a parlare di come si parla, poi di come si pubblicherà ciò di cui si è parlato. Si finisce (quasi sempre) per darsi del fascista, o dell’ignorante.

La scelta delle parole chiave è arbitraria (?).



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Oggi ripensavo a uno straordinario romanzo di Manuel Scorza, Historia de Garabombo, el Invisible.

E mi è venuto in mente un discorso che ci faceva spesso il compianto Arnaldo Picchi, al laboratorio di Regia del DAMS, anni or sono. Tenendo la sigaretta tra il pollice e l’indice, con il fuoco rivolto verso il palmo della mano, Picchi accompagnava l’accolita dentro i problemi di drammaturgia. Io ho smesso di calcare le scene, ma alcuni insegnamenti mi sono rimasti dentro, e anche alcuni problemi. Tra tutti, quello che per lui sembrava racchiudere il segreto dell’attore, e del teatro. La rappresentazione dell’invisibile. Come in Garabombo. Il padre di Amleto è il problema del teatro.

Come mettere in scena l’invisibile? Lo puoi raccontare con parole d’altri, lo puoi guardare con occhi d’altri, lo puoi far brillare nella sua assenza. L’invisibilità di Garabombo poi è ancora più straordinaria, perché è settoriale, è privilegiata: chi lo disprezza non lo può vedere, solo chi lo ama può percepirlo. O forse questo è anche del padre di Amleto, che si mostra soltanto a chi lo ha amato?

In breve: leggete Garabombo. Anzi, leggete tutti i romanzi – o Cantari sarebbe meglio – di Scorza rivolti a Cerro de Pasco e alla lotta impari e purtroppo spesso tragica tra contadini e possidenti. Sono testi che riservano delle sorprese straordinarie, e farete cosa grata a uno scrittore che è stato ingiustamente dimenticato dopo un po’ di moda (anche italiana) negli anni Sessanta-Settanta. E se ci riuscite, cercate di mostrare l’invisibile.