Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 17, 2015

The motorcycle looks somewhat dated but is indisputably an angel

Filed under: literature,motorcycles — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

(From the latest London Review of Books)

Claudio Castiglione and Massimo Tamburini

by Frederick Seidel

The motorcycle looks somewhat dated but is indisputably an angel.
Like an electric chair before the current goes on.
Like an electric chair before the switch is thrown.
You’ve eaten your last meal, the priest has left the room.
The motorcycle between your legs is an angel
Revving its desmodromic basso profondo into a scream.
It’s Massimo Tamburini’s great 1994 Ducati 916 design, the Nine Sixteen!
Massimo’s soul in metal, slender as a child,
Glory whose maybe slightly dated beauty sings eternal.
Claudio Castiglione, who owned Cagiva, which owned Ducati, was the Medici
Who underwrote the considerable development cost of this piece of sculpture.
Time, space,
Neither life nor death is the answer.
And of man seeking good,
Doing evil,
Here was an exception.

Speed is the demon. Speed is not!
Speed is the big white breast
That arouses Italian men enough to get them finally to leave the nest –
Finally! – though they still love mommy’s breast the best.
Up the autostrada we sped,
Claudio behind the wheel,
Chatting when Claudio wasn’t taking and making many Massimo calls
On the car’s speaker phone – a toy at the time only James Bond had.
On our way to his house on the Italian Riviera,
In a dove-gray, conservative businessman’s
Stealth four-door Alfa Romeo sedan
(Claudio also owned a Ferrari P-2),
I glanced over at the speedometer but didn’t want to stare,
And saw we were casually going 240 kilometers an hour,
And wide-eyed,
Felt a swoon of pride.

Italy is despicable and ridiculous
And bad and sad
And full of as many flavors of cancer as Leopardi said.
It once was great.
It has cancer of the state.
Is there anything one can accomplish before it is too late?
At Rodrigo in Bologna one can eat bottarga.
One can take a taxi out to the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale
And say hello to Paolo Ciabatti.
One can reread Montale and remember Aldo Moro.
The tentacles of the octopus ripple like boiling ribbons of pasta
And the suckers attach to buildings and the buildings goose-step
Underwater up and down the Arno.
The semi-tropical trees on Bellosguardo recite their satanic vows.
The cities are for sale.
Men, seeking good, doing evil, buy them.

Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group,
Through its Italian subsidiary Lamborghini
Has bought tiny, mighty Ducati!
The CEO of Ducati is Claudio Domenicali, brains and huge ears,
Who ran Ducati Corse (the racing department) during the fecund years.
Volkswagen’s Chairman, the engineer and business magnate Ferdinand Piëch,
The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche,
Has always been a vehement Viennese Ducati enthusiast,
Though these days Ducati Corse keeps losing in MotoGP,
The summit of motorcycle racing and publicity, motorcycling’s Formula 1.
Domenicali has to fix that or that will be that.
It costs almost as much as the war in Iraq
For a factory team to compete. And then, on top of that, to lose!
Circuit after circuit falls to the Sunni extremists, Honda and Yamaha,
As they rave their way south toward Baghdad,
Beheading Shia for the sheer bliss of it.

Castiglione and Tamburini have died,
And without them Italy is stupid –
First one and then the other,
Both of course of cancer.
It appears Europe will fail,
The euro and immigration.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
Is the only man among them.
Nothing is more beautiful than her political will,
But stupidity and cupidity will probably prevail.
Cancer, cancer, everywhere,
And cocaine sunshine in the Botticelli air.
The exotic Ducati Superleggera crackles
As it warms up to commit parricide.
The power of the new machine
Will devour the 916.

Dante and his friend and mentor Guido Cavalcanti
Are taking the museum tour at the Ducati factory.
Here they can see everything that is beautiful.
The motorcycles are displayed along the walls.
The motorcycles are as beautiful as Merkel’s political will.
The visitors are contemplating the spirit of Love.
They might as well be gazing up at night at the stars.
So many motorcycles will lead to great poetry surely.
Guido is instructing Dante in the use of the spoken Tuscan language
And the guidance the love of women gives,
When they are joined by Fellini and behind him Puccini
And behind Puccini Guido’s father, Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti.
The motorcycles around them look like birdsong sounds in spring
And everything speaks Italian like a river flows.
There is no sign of any fascists
And we believe in God, even if we are atheists.

5 Comments »

  1. The late Hunter S. Thompson once rode a similar bike. Here’s his article “Song of the Sausage Creature” he wrote about it along with a picture of him with it:

    http://www.latexnet.org/~csmith/sausage.html

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 17, 2015 @ 5:47 pm

  2. Lennon was often inspired for lyric by articles in the Daily Mail: their liberal use can be seen as a cut ‘n paste in each of the verses of A Day in the Life. Lennon himself said that his lyric for Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite was taken wholesale from a victorian era circus marquee he came across in a second-had shop. Likewise, Sidel read the Financial Times, oh boy:

    Audi, part of the Volkswagen Group,
    Through its Italian subsidiary Lamborghini
    Has bought tiny, mighty Ducati!
    The CEO of Ducati is Claudio Domenicali, brains and huge ears,
    Who ran Ducati Corse (the racing department) during the fecund years.
    Volkswagen’s Chairman, the engineer and business magnate Ferdinand Piëch,
    The grandson of Ferdinand Porsche,
    Has always been a vehement Viennese Ducati enthusiast,
    Though these days Ducati Corse keeps losing in MotoGP,
    The summit of motorcycle racing and publicity, motorcycling’s Formula 1.

    I say all this because much of the poetry we read today resemble pop songs while the better pop songs resemble poetry. This particular one is a pean to the motorcycle as a means of escape or an homage to Angela Merkel? Both apparently.

    “Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
    Is the only man among them.
    Nothing is more beautiful than her political will,..”

    “The motorcycles are as beautiful as Merkel’s political will.”

    Yes…. and italian boys need their speed.

    However the style of this poem does not harken back to Garcia-Lorca or Andre Breton, or Joyce for its inspiration. A quick look at Roberto Bolano,s Romantic Dogs, which do, reveal a possible source and better poetry:

    “It’s 1976 and the Revolution has been defeated
    but we’ve yet to find out.
    We are 22, 23 years old.
    Mario Santiago and I walk down a black and white street.
    At the end of the street, in a neighborhood straight out of a
    fifties film, sits the house of Darío Galicia’s parents.
    It’s the year 1976 and they’ve just trepanned Darío Galicia’s skull.
    He’s alive, the Revolution’s been defeated, it’s a nice day
    in spite of storm clouds advancing slowly from the north,
    crossing the valley Darío receives us reclined on a divan.”

    Frederick Seidel himself has insisted “Everything in the poems is true…you should take them at face value.” There.
    An e. e. cummings moment.

    Comment by Scott Edwards — January 17, 2015 @ 5:54 pm

  3. Living in Italy where we are on an austerity leash held in Germany, I wish La Merkel would cut out the manly masochism and let rip with some girlishness.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — January 17, 2015 @ 6:26 pm

  4. About the poem’s forebears: “But stupidity and cupidity will probably prevail. Cancer, cancer, everywhere,” sounds very much like Uncle Ezra Pound. “There is no sign of any fascists” tells me that Seidel’s Italy isn’t the one I’m living in where a rats‘ nest called Casa Pound is very visible. Incidentally, when one of theirs, Gianluca Casseri, shot five Senegalese stallholders, killing two of them, in Firenze on December 13, 2011, no one went hysterical and shouted “Je suis, etc.” There aren’t many readers of the Financial Times in my Italy. There are a lot of black faces running scared, some of them fished out of the Mediterranean after escaping the wars we brought to their countries. There are also a lot of out of work Italians who can’t afford any kind of motorcycle these days, much less a Ducati

    Comment by Peter Byrne — January 18, 2015 @ 10:56 am

  5. While I’m riffing on Italy from Italy on a rainy Sunday morning I ought mention that a great director, Francesco Rosi, died on January 10. Both he and his fetish actor Gian Maria Volonté were part of the vigorous cultural stream produced by Italian Communists that flowed from the1950s into the ‘70s. Rosi began his career working with Visconti, but unlike him or other glamorous figures like Rossellini, Fellini, Pasolini or Antonioni never had great impact abroad. Rosi used documentary knowhow to renew the tired biopic formula and made it into a platform for genuine debate. He was investigative in the best sense, passionate in his convictions but never ignoring the weight of the status quo that had to be upended.

    His work doesn’t date. Watching his ‘Lucky Luciano’ makes ‘The Godfather’ seem like soap opera, or like the Chicago ‘deep pan’ ersatz in contrast to Neapolitan pizza. ‘Hands over the City’ has never been bettered as an analysis of corruption in his native Naples. Like Visconti with Kurt Douglas and Fellini with Broderick Crawford and Richard Basehart, Rosi got the best out of America actors, in this case of Rod Steiger. ‘Salvatore Giuliano’ showed Rosi at his peak dealing with the ambiguous postwar movement in Sicily that proposed secession to the U.S.A. His Pontecorvo-like objectivity revealed how the bandit Giuliano, the people’s hero, was made to serve reaction. Location mattered to Rosi. He saw Sicilians as inseparable from their landscape. The rest of his career was what you would expect from a director who said:
    “What interests me passionately is how a character behaves in the relation to the collectivity of society. I’m not making a study of character but of society. To understand what a man is like in his private drama you must begin to understand him in his public life”.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — January 18, 2015 @ 3:26 pm


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