Written by  Roberto Pazzi
Notes on the first great literary festival in Ferrara.
About ten years ago I took part in a literary convention in Lahti, Finland, which focused on the death sentence pronounced by Khomeini's totalitarian regime against Salman Rushdie. After my speech, I was approached by an Australian Poet, Alain Wearne. When he heard I was from Ferrara, he said he would send me a copy of a book which, he was sure, was going to interest me. The title was The Ferrara Poems.

The authors, Ken Bolton and John Jenkins, had to set their work in the Italian city they had never seen. I came back home, and, in a few weeks I received the book. The edition was quite poor, the cover did not bear any hint at the title. I was astonished when I realised that the city of Ferrara, in The Ferrara Poems, was placed on the mountains, slightly undulating mountains, rolling among the Este Castle, the Palazzo dei Diamanti, the Cathedral and the Palazzo Schifanoia. Streets and squares going uphill and downhill, re-designing the lowland town, re-arranging the elements of my day-to-day life into a completely different imagery, though maintaining the names, monuments and streets of the real city.

Here, I told myself, that is what a city, my city looks like in the imagery of those at antipodes. A name to be re-spelt, a climate to be re-invented, an urban structure to be redesigned, a skyline to be re-outlined, and all that if the name itself is maintained, with its few letters, its seven signs, Ferrara.
A box full of sounds, looking for other sounds, an enzyme catalysing images of far countries, a music exercise of variations on the theme, a mantra, creating happiness and escaping through diversification from the reiterated repetition that leads to boredom, the hazardous attempt at increasing the evocative opportunities of proper nouns.

That is imagery, I told myself. Provided it is safeguarded by the non-knowledge of the object, provided nobody has ever set foot on the ground where the creative imagination puts the place. I immediately thought that the image of Ferrara had been evoked because it was protected by the remote distance from the object recalled by the name.

And it was back then that I conceived the idea of organising a convention on contemporary imagery in Ferrara, summoning poets, novelists, literary critics and scholars. In dealing with the sacred, the science of figurative arts, they look into the human attitude of widening and reducing distances, not so much according to railways companies or airlines, but rather answering the need to associate a meaning to names, sounds, words, formulas, numbers, colours and shapes by playing with those very names, sounds, words, formulas, numbers, colours and shapes.

They place the world of experience side by side with the world of imagination, of which our life is impregnated: that world that we walk through everyday, when we sit down on our own and think, or when we talk to someone, and all of a sudden we do not listen to them anymore, struck by a word they have uttered that kills all the other words and summons a crowd of different words, attacking our interlocutor, while this battle is rendered invisible by the smile on our lips.

That life that throbs when we are exposed to the provocation of the senses, eyes wide open, ears, nose, smell and taste on alert. Or even more when our eyes are closed, when the substitute of the so-called reality takes over, and we plunge in our individual and collective memory. Totally surrendering to life, when we enter the house of sleep.
Perhaps the time had come to meet here in Ferrara to review the status of the imagery after a few centuries, as well as the fabricating function of the mind, the temptation to place side by side the object and its double, vain and trembling, improbable but cumbersome. It is like a shadow accompanying the flesh, following it, serving it as a slave, courting it and being subjected by it at the same time, and the flesh, its master could not live without it. Because the imagery is also this; the shadow cast by a body, something left unsaid by someone who has already ceased speaking and thus lost their chance; the beginning of a new speech, seen as our last chance to cast the dice, even though we know a second chance would be better, richer, more adequate and rewarding. But there is no second chance, we can only imagine it.

«Express oneself and die or remain unexpressed but immortal,» wrote Alfred Jarry at the beginning of this century, an aphorism that the Italian writer Pierpaolo Pasolini loved to quote. This is the new contradictory distinction between reality and imagery, denouncing the fertility of life. The first part of the dilemma is to be satisfied with reality, the second part is the seduction of the siren song, the chilling fascination of the imagery.

It would have been an enormous mistake to invite here the two Australian poets who imagined Ferrara on the mountains. They would now be roaming the streets of this lowland city, with their book in their hands, overcome by shame, trying to book a seat on the first flight to Australia, where they could still imagine Ferrara as a city on the mountains. Since the Sirens would have forced them to go back to the only Ferrara their minds knew, the city they had betrayed, just like Orpheus, when he turns back to see if Eurydice is following him.
What are our dreams made of in the era of Internet? How is our contemporary imagery changing? We are not the Greeks, who lived side by side with the divine and heroic overwork of classical mythology. We do not live in the Middle Ages, with our minds devoted to the heavenly double world, whose model is to be found in Dante's Comedy. We do not live in the Renaissance either, with the Prince and the Courtier, caught between virtue and fortune, rationalism and fatalism. Nor are we the modern man, seduced by the almighty myth of Faust, not so different from the notion of the Superman, father of all narcissism and individualism, nourishing the collective dreams of this post-modern era.

Can the literary world, together with the world of the sciences, religion, philosophy and the arts, try to find the fil rouge that unites the different expressions of contemporary imagery? The myths, hopes and fears, whereupon we build our novels and poems, prove that the East and the West, the North and the South of the world have something in common. A work of literature cannot have success among millions of readers if it does not touch some deep need, some yet unexplored area of the psyche. It has to find its place somewhere between the fear of freedom, causing the upsurge of fundamentalism, and the need for a new identity.

We are not men of power, we do not take any decision. What we will say over the next few days will not affect the world's financial markets. The overstructure, the Power does not ask anything of us. But the Power is incomplete without us. Because half of the flesh governed by the Power is made of a substance that eludes the Power, a very fine sand made of the same fabric of dreams, as Borges would say, completing the assumption by Feuerbach, according to which "man IS what he eats".
What is the purpose of good governing? One must eat to live, but what does living mean? What should one live for? That is where we, the men of the imagery, are called upon. Some will serve Justice, some Truth, some others God or Beauty. Our Convention will not result in decisions, but something useful might come out of it, in that it might denounce the threat weighing upon contemporary imagery, originating from the virtual world of the Internet, or from the omnipotence of genetic engineering. Today it is easy to replace the imagery with the virtual. Some already believe that it will be possible to create the Centaur, conceived by the imagination of the Ancients.

The real danger is that reality and imagery can become one. For many of us this is a risk that has accompanied mankind for many centuries, thus it would not be wise to worry and say that our era is worse than any other. Nevertheless, many minds are troubled by the thought that images are invading the imagery. Some believe that images killed the art of reading, since the art to create in our minds the object described in a book is hampered by television. I will not dwell upon these themes any longer, I just wanted to hint at a few questions that I leave open for you to deal with.

I just hope that the two Australian poets will not come walking through that door with their book describing an imaginary Ferrara, claiming their right to see it in the form they have imagined thousands of miles away from here.