What are the United States and where are they now? Il lavoro culturale begins today a multi-voice special dedicated to “the greatest democracy in the world”; our aim is to try to capture the wide spectrum of symptoms and effects of the profound transformations that are underway in the country.
On the second Monday of October the US celebrate Columbus Day. Born to commemorate the “discovery” of the American continent by the Genoese navigator and to celebrate Italian-American heritage and culture, recently this celebration is experiencing growing dissent because of the colonial dimension: Columbus’ arrival in the Americas tragically led to the genocide of the native populations. This ambiguous and controversial legacy that unites Italy and the United States has become the symptom of a reinterpretation of modern history aimed at highlighting the dramatic aspects long hidden in the folds of a teleological and optimistic narrative linked to the idea of progress. This colonial tradition involves the relationship that Europe first, and that great and diverse ensemble called the West then, entertain with the rest of the world. A relationship that today questions past and present responsibilities of economic inequalities and conflicts that mark different realms of our present world.
Looking at the US internal situation today is an oblique way to address several crucial issues in understanding future global scenarios from a narrow, localized perspective, yet broad enough to pose more general questions. It means investigating persistent social and ethnic segmentations beyond the rhetoric of development and prosperity; it means interrogating memorial dynamics based on both oblivion and the pacification offered by the winners; it also means addressing the governmental strategies related to the fear-terror plexus; finally, it means rethinking the space and the extent of the action of the “Atlantic pact” for the years to come, in the face of today’s reconfiguration of the force relations on a world scale.
But the analysis of the state of American democracy – in its epicentre as well in its border areas – is above all an attempt to observe the similarities and differences between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean through an external and eccentric look. The comparative perspective can help to better understand what scenarios are awaiting Europe, and Italy in particular, in the face of the alleged crisis of the model that has been strongly orienting its policies and forms of community for twenty years.
Why are we beginning a journey through the States right now, beyond the coincidences of the calendar? Because the United States of America are in great transformation. If this latter is a recurrent trademark of the country, the social and political changes of the last few years seem to provide a remarkable acceleration to processes in place for decades, whose tangles have started to loosen and become clearer. To name just a few: the constant and progressive de-industrialization (and depopulation) of large areas of the country, especially in the Midwest; the migratory phenomena from Latin American countries to the USA, especially in the South; the immigration policies affecting those arriving from the Middle East and other countries in war; the anger of young blacks apparently exploded out of the blue.
Thus, is the election of a “not so presidential” POTUS such as the tycoon Donald Trump the epiphenomenon, the point of arrival for radical changes that invest the country? Or, conversely, is it the beginning of great upheavals that have already begun or are still impossible to scrutinize? Undeniably, whatever the interpretation is, the election night of November 4, 2016 and the subsequent proclamation of the president on January 20, 2017 are decisive events in US history, the repercussions of which are far from being fully outlined in the horizon of a historical rationality.
This “American Lab” therefore aims at trying to trace the boundaries and lines of development of this rationality, starting from what is around the visual focus and / or at the borders of the discursive order, investigating the less apparent forms of intelligibility of the (alleged or real) changes that have invested American society – ten years after the beginning of the global economic crisis. We want to ask ourselves, once again, what remains of the country that most directed the history of the Twentieth century now that this new century has seen the overwhelming emergence of new economic, political and even cultural powers. Do we still need to look to America to see where the world is going? What is changing in this great and heterogeneous country in relation to a memory and a story whose interaction is so particular? How does it stand, under the leadership of Trump, on the threshold of the challenges of today’s world?
At this set of issues of matter, we think that it is also essential to have an explicit or implicit reflection on some methodological questions. What analytical tools (if any) can we borrow from the European experience in order to understand the evolution of US policies and forms of resistance, for example, in relation to migration processes and contraposition to neo-fascism? Or on the contrary, what can we draw from the American situation in rethinking the forms and strategies of the European community?
This “American Lab” will be an open site of discussion and in-depth analysis that Il lavoro culturale begins today, Columbus Day, to conclude, at least provisionally, at the end of January 2018, in conjunction with the first anniversary of the Trump administration. It will be a multimedia special with photographic and film inserts, and with different styles, from classical reportage to the analysis of a specific topic that will host eccentric looks (in both geographic and prospective terms) on contemporary US reality.
These eccentric looks will be predominantly – albeit not only – “foreigners”, somehow rethinking the path that 525 years ago led Christopher Columbus to discover or plunder, depending on the perspective adopted, the Americas. A new discovery (or precisely conquest, according to those who perceive human movements as a threat) caused by the fact that the United States are still a point of reference and attraction for qualified workers that in Europe – and obviously in all the areas assembling the global South – fatigue to get out of the sand of a precariousness that does not seem to suffer from slowdowns or even U-turn.
And this will ultimately be the last great point to be questioned: how much “supplement of intensity” will such looks involve in capturing the dormant aspects of the visible surface? This question was already raised by Roland Barthes in the famous letter addressed to Michelangelo Antonioni. And the Italian director was one of the first to try to capture cognitively the New World in 1970 with Zabriskie Point, in the wake of the great cultural revolution that from West Coast had rapidly propagated in the Old Continent, contributing to its provisional rejuvenation.
We do not think that the supplement of intensity we will try to deploy in the next weeks will be able to deflate the consumer society, as in the celebrated ending of the film. We just hope that highlighting the intricate interweaving of history, memory, and present could expand the space for a critical reconsideration of contemporary politics.