Wednesday, November 02, 2005


[Open quote.] December 1962. It is toward the end of the day. Fellini is weary as hell. He has been dubbing "8 1/2".

"Rome happens to be where I live and work. That the squalid city depicted should find its historian not in a Suetonius or Tacitus but in a gossip columnist seems right to me. [says Fellini, speaking of his movie 'La Dolce Vita'] Concerning the unmerciful look at each scene: everything is seen through the same curious, negative eye. This way of looking seemed typical of our time: a tragic or a great event is given the same importance as the election of a beauty queen; all are given the same value."

Fellini's English isn't bad, but he'd rather say it in Italian. My Bolognese friend, Carlo Baldi, is our interpreter. He is a marvel, but on occasion he engages in poetic flights. "For Chrissake, Carlo, give it to me literally." Carlo smiles. I don't understand. "Studs, my dear friend, Federico Fellini is a poet. To translate as you suggest might lose its flavor." Aahhh, what can I say to that? He's Italian.

I am haunted by Fellini's being haunted by the waste of human beings, of possibilities that may never be tapped.

"Actually, I am very optimistic about human beings. I do not feel I have adopted a negative, judging attitude toward human waste. This wandering around today in search of some truth has a certain value, I feel, and I view it with a sympathetic eye. This sympathy, this solidarity, this participation in everything we do, I attempt to express formally in my work."

Now give it to me straight, Carlo, I say to the party of the third part. Oh God, Carlo, I silently pray, don't be Montale or Ungaretti now, give me Fellini straight. And Carlo does just that (I think) beautifully.

"Decay can bring liberation and growth. Men tend to become free through it. The hero of "81/2"—the movie director Guido—out of the decay of doubts and confusions, recognizes himself. Only by admitting that decay can he start fresh, free of doubts given him by wrong education, and free, too, of the way of life imposed on him by his environment. By admitting them, Guido is free to start all over again. He finds a new humanity.

"I try to reveal a certain element in all of us and to vibrate a core in our spirit. I am concerned not only with social implications; I care for the poetry in us.

"Guido becomes aware of the value of man as he is. Man's recognition of his limitations is a way to freedom. Only when man understands that he is free can he know where he stands and then make a free choice. Only at this point can he jump into faith. This faith can be religious, political, or whatever. That choice exists is the point." [Close quote.]

And here am I, 43 years after this discussion between Studs Terkel (alive) and Federico (dead), and only just now discovering that maybe humans have very little freedom at all because of our entrapping genes which decide for us so many of our human traits and abilities, yet, for all that, I have this sense, also expressed by Fellini, that the more I accept the fact that I might be a robot after all, the more free I imagine I am. I'll take that sense of freedom if that's all I can have. It's just like I can see that there's no god, yet I do admit that the "idea of god" works for some people to lessen their pain when they suffer a loss. However, I don't know if that's true either. Pain is pain.

Also, about this idea of choice, how free am I to choose? I can see that when I first read Daniel Dennett's CONSCIOUSNESS EXPLAINED, I set off on a course of reading about consciousness and into the subject of evolutionary psychology, but what led me to pick up Dennett's book five or so years ago? How did that appear on my radar screen, and, then, what tipped me to pick up the book after it appeared on the radar scope? Each choice, if I honestly consider it, was based on previous experiences which primed my chemical system in the brain to lean one way or another when I encountered the phenomena about which I had to make what we call a "choice". I think of choice as being a chemical potentiality in the brain which causes me to tip this way or that at each moment of "decision". Then, of course, my consciousness, wholly unaware of the brain's chemical command over it, names the event, "choice", after the fact.

I believe that's true. Not as philosophically deep as the discussion by Dennett in his book, FREEDOM EVOLVES, but close enough for farm machinery.

"It's better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life." —Irish proverb

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