Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Giovanni Papini - The Failure - 1912

"But I will here quote this one sentence of Novalis: 'The world shall be as I wish it!' There you already have in a nutshell the whole problem of Hitler, the central problem of the dedivinizing and dehumanizing."
Eric VoegelinHitler and the Germans, 1964

Papini, Giovanni. 2009. Un Homme Fini
trans. Y. Pelloso, Lausanne: L'Age d'Homme

In the words of Boris Groys, traditional mimetic art “was based on an adulation of Nature as the whole and consummate creation of the one and only God that the artist must imitate if his or her own artistic gift were to approximate the divine” (GROYS 2011, 14). In contrast avant-gardism wished no longer to imitate God, but rather to replace him, “by subjugating it [the world] to the single organizing and harmonizing will of the artist” (GROYS 2011, 16) ;
Hubris had long been central to the scathing diagnosis leveled against modernity, but it is not until the rise of modernism proper that culture embraced it as the legitimate ideology behind progress. Groys’ work, alongside that of James C. Scott (SCOTT 1998), is one of the few to have focused on this power-hungry dynamic of the movement, that runs a parallel and no less controversial path to the secularization of culture.
Papini’s book, “The Failure” (Un Uomo Finito in his 1912 original, and “Un Homme Fini” in the French I have been reading) is perhaps one of the most outspoken and unashamed exploration of what Groys has called the avant-garde’s “demiurgic” drive, as well a valuable (if biased!) document in early “Recall to Order”(POGGIOLI 1968, 93).
Giovanni Papini (1881-1956) entered the limelight with his publishing of the journal Leonardo (1903-1907) in Florence along with his close friend Giuseppe Prezzolini, introducing Italy to the thought of Bergson and William James, and setting the scene for the further development of avant-garde culture. Unlike those two fervent democrats, he would involve himself early on with Italian nationalism, promoting, with varying degrees of conviction, the end of Giolittian democracy (as editor of Il Regno), Italy’s involvement in WW1 on the side of the allies (as editor and futurist in Lacerba) and much later, from 1933 onward, half-hearted obedience to Mussolini. 

Un Uomo Finito intends to mark a turning point in his life, the end of his old ways and a turn from ruthless monadic individualism to rootedness and a cult of the Toscanità (ADAMSON 1993, 9) which will come crowning and terminate his futurist celebration of nationalism as a mean to cultural renovation. This new concern for “La Terre et les Morts” probably plays a large part in leading Papini to embrace the catholicism he had sometimes victimized to popular acclaim, writing in 1921 what remains his most famous work Storia di Cristo ; Somehow silenced by many of his sympathetic biographers, or wrongly reduced to “christian” anti-judaism, Papini was also a longstanding and vocal anti-semite, long before he was allegedly coerced into joining the Fascist Party in 19331

Albert Weisgerber - Pfauentanz - in Jugend magazine - 1902

But at the time of writing Un Uomo Finito, in 1911, we have no reasons to believe he held antisemitic views: he had indeed penned the nationalist program for Corradini and voiced his hostility to socialism, but neither Corradini nor his Nationalist Association seem to have supported this ideology (TALMON 1991, 484). In fact, much more than nationalism, the ideology that permeates Papini’s writing up to and including this book, is that of a radical individualism of Stirnerian inspiration: Close to anarchism as a youth, he quickly shed those political commitments in favour of the de facto anarchy of a monadic celebration of the self, in the spirit of Stirner’s “I do not demand any right, therefore I need not recognize any either” (STIRNER 1995): such “might is right” attitude will remain largely theory as he was deemed too myopic and ill-built for serving in WW1 (despite his best efforts) but following the Great War he will have mustered enough clairvoyance to realize it was nothing to be celebrated.
Since it was not with deeds he was to prove his strength, he went early for sarcasm and solitude: at first because his ugly face and thankless character but soon after as an intransigeant discipline and defense against a hostile and mediocre world. For long the young Papini has no friends, and even when he has some, he seems to find it difficult to reconcile this commitment with his egotic worldviews.
With age, those will become somewhat muted, but to the end he remains fond, despite his pestering of all déracinés, of his self-image as an intellectial vagrant, a discreet recalling of his self-education: “Me, I always remained a bit of that  drifting and fanciful nomad from this distant era: (…) I don’t have a fraction of the world I could demarcate with a wall and claim: this is mine!” (PAPINI 2009, 74)

Papini will even eventually find his own “union of egoists” (STIRNER 1995, 161) who share his passion and some of his outlooks, and who will soon get to work and produce first Leonardo, followed by an unsteady stream of other publications some of which will gain national and international recognition: “It was for us, as divine youth, intoxication without wine, orgy without women, a party without women nor dances. It was, everyday, the exultant exhumation of our self, of our deepest and truest self; the discovery, the perpetual reconstruction of our intelligence of poets of the concepts and probers of the abyss.” (PAPINI 2009, 78). At first Papini seems as close as it gets to a leader, but neither does he seem to exhibit an authoritarian personality, nor does his circle really try to wrestle his authority from him. When clashes do happen those seem to be largely motivated by diverging ideals:
His best friend Prezzolini, once a “sworn enemy of all discipline” will eventiually follow Benedetto Croce’s idealism, rooted less in the soil than in reason. While they had run Leonardo together, they depart in the age of La Voce, Papini then founding the incendiary and war-mongering paper “Lacerba,” that will for a time represent in Florence the interest of the Marinetti’s futurists (ADAMSON 1993).
Ardengo Soffici on the other hand, maybe more involved in painting than in philosophy, will remain closer to the vehemence of his early days:
Others yet, like Giovanni Amendola (few in fact…) who partook in both Leonardo and La Voce, would turn to defending democracy against the rise of Fascism and eventually loose his life to the cause.

Hugh Ferris - Lure of the City - 1925

Among this blossoming avant-garde, all opposed to the decadent sensuality of the previous generation (most of all embodied in the Florentine D’Annunzio) we find the foundations of Papini’s poetics, which unlike off his ideas will remain somewhat consistent throughout his life: corollary to their activism is rejection of the unnecessary, of the refined, of all aristocracy but that of action. Aside from emerging populism this expresses itself in a rich, often visual imaginary of earthy metaphors rooted in the quotidian, generally celebrating firmness, simplicity and authenticity.
In Papini this take the form of a fascination for inhospitable nature, for the “the nakedness of the earth and the purity of altitude” (PAPINI 2009, 76) no doubt rousing his “passion for naked thought” (PAPINI 2009, 72) ;
It is hard not to think of a Mediterranean
Adolf Loos2 when we hear Papini condemning effete prose and demand “return to the nakedness of our souls, innocent as Adam was naked of body” but right away he adds “Reason must be our reason, and history starts today. Year one of our era. Incipit vita nova.” (PAPINI 2009, 94)

This new era shall not be one of positivism nor rationalism: his monadic individualism happily sidestep into solipsism and Papini’s pursuit of emancipation through the negation of determinism rapidly turn to a kind of gnostic liberation atheology: alienating conditioning, pathological self-deprecation, short-sighted materialism all conspire to rob man from “the divine liberty of the self” (PAPINI 2009, 74) and the awareness of his divine omnipotence.
What is proposed instead is the recognition that “I am the world” (PAPINI 2009, 83) and the negation of “the pretentious puppets of my inner theatre” (PAPINI 2009, 85).

Papini claims that following his encounter with Max Stirner’s idiosyncratic philosophy, he moved from “cognitive solipsism” to “moral solipsism” (PAPINI 2009, 89) : as if from his early suspicion the world at large may only exist in his mind, he came to merely doubt the actual individuality of those around him. This seems rather dubious given that down to the writing of Un Uomo Finito, Papini will retain the certainty that sheer will should suffice to bend the laws of the real. It could be argued that Papini takes up Stirner’s diagnosis that “we are the mere servants of our thoughts” (STIRNER 1995, 11) but can only allow the self, transcendent but in his case unconstructed (save by himself) to be so worshiped

What does seem to constitute a genuine transformation, though, is his shift from personal to messianic and collective liberation: His erstwhile rejection, negation even, of all men took his decadent elitism to its paroxysm, the one-man elite relentlessly attacking the rest of the world as unworthy of his attention. This phase came to an end when Papini discovered or acknowledged the significance of mass movements in his metaphysics, gaining maybe enough confidence and recognition to venture proposals not only for himself but for those willing to hear: “No longer a victim: I found myself dominant and superior – the only quick in a world filled with shades.” (PAPINI 2009, 86)
The impact of anarcho-individualism on the development of fascist ideologies has not been, to our knowledge, adequately studied, but this “populist turn” in Papini’s voluntarist political religion suggests a possible articulation: if we are, as Deleuze (DELEUZE & GUATTARI 1980, 281) or Leo Strauss (STRAUSS 1999) do, to speak of fascism as rooted in nihilism, there comes a point when the incipient negation of the world makes room for a conception of the real as popular consensus.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy - Wie bleibe ich jung und schön - 1925

The life of Papini is littered with what we could call “performative terminations”: spectacular declarations that mark the end of a period, and sometimes the birth of another, or that of an angsty interregnum. His early life is recounted through his successive abandoning of all sorts of megalomaniac scholarly projects, and in his Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi (1906) he proclaims the end of that “anguished cabal of signs around oblivion” (PAPINI 2009, 164), philosophy itself, which he sees as masturbatory contemplation removed from all utility and praxis. The last issue of Leonardo is trumpeting Papini’s editorial infanticide and some five years later in Un Uomo Finito, his acerbic autobiography constitutes a lengthy drumroll for his announcing a new turn in his intellectual life, abandoning nihilistic individualism in favor of rootedness and a more vital austerity. This new Papini will shed once and for all his old self  in 1919.

Where does this need to demarcate distinct phases, as if beating the rhythm in his life, arises from? Purely in terms of style, there is no doubting that Papini enjoyed playing the apocalyptic prophet, with a keen ear for the grand poetics of ill omen. But beyond style there is of course more than one answer:
One of those could be his consistent pursuit of radical extremity, notably difficult to conjugate with the shifts and changes a real life brings about. He feels the need to dramatize his own changes of opinion (no doubt felt as lacking virility), to turn them from failure into changes of heart of metaphysical significance (cf. the first of the “five unpublished chapters” in addendum to the French editions of L’Age d’Homme - see PAPINI 2009, 263) ; 

A large amount of Papini’s self-flagellation and relentless criticism seems to result from this strategy of his, consisting in first pointing out, and eventually embracing his own shortcomings, turning them from weaknesses into badges of “badness” (MAO & WALKOWITZ 2010)
Yet all this was a mere gesture towards real badness – in fact, towards the absolute badness – which Papini openly aspired to: in 1903, the Austrian Otto Weininger, and in 1910, the Italian Carlo Michelstaedter, had each killed themselves aged 23, right after finishing their respective philosophical testaments. We know Papini had been influenced by Weininger’s extolling  virile asceticism (ADAMSON 1993, 91) and that Papini brought public attention to Michelstaedter’s death in an article titled “Un suicida metafisico3
That peculiar form of nihilism, which demands the author’s death as a correlative and confirmation of their philosophical indictement of the world, had a profound resonance with Papini’s own pessimism: he longed for “sacrifice, great and dignified because absurd, and sacrifice because absurd” (PAPINI 1912, 254) but, for reasons we can only speculate about, he choose to live.
Instead of an actual suicide, which might, at times, have seemed the appropriate full stop to his life conceived as a coherent work of art (WILSON SMITH 2007, 134) Papini concludes Un Uomo Finito with a rebirth: “The best is yet to come: I was only born today” (PAPINI 2009, 253) and “The child is born nine months old, but the man only starts at thirty” (PAPINI 2009, 255). 

It is fairly clear the possibility of his suicide did cross his mind, and he is aware that it probably crossed that of his readers too. “under the guise of trying to do more than others, one does less than all and prepare oneself a glorious defeat: he had proposed things so great his forces were not enough” (PAPINI 2011, 185) – yet the emptiness of life, the lack of a legacy maybe, and no doubt a part of fear too, lead him to live. He dedicate a certain amount of energy to justify this survival: “With this nobility, this grandeur, this ultimate and desperate heroism, I escape both death and mediocrity at the same time” (PAPINI 2009, 238) – But beyond those sorry claims to doing one better than Mishima, the death and rebirth his autobiography heralds displaces the author’s death from the realm of the factual to that of the performative: In the crucial, conclusive chapter XLVII, “Who I am”, Papini paints his portrait as the unlikely cohabitation of two conflictual drives, a destructive one, bent on annihilating all illusions, extinguishing all pretense of hope and celebrating oblivion, and one playful, illusory, creative:
But after this devouring fury, comes back the dreamer who imagines Impossible stories, distorts reality, projects in the convenient mirror of his imagination his baddest instincts, his most frenzied desires, which makes larger than nature the men he hates and those he loves, drawing from life itself the real point of departure from which to prolongate and widen the dream.
Then I am assaulted by all absurd stories, bizarre projects, incredible adventures, the mad men and the criminals who have never lived and want to live in me, the loves factitious and unreasoned, the singular deaths, incredible.
” (PAPINI 2009, 247)

And indeed after this death and rebirth, and his “admitting crudely to the feebleness and of fiction of life” (PAPINI 2009, 186) Papini will embrace more and more his creative side: he will take up poetry, the tales that had sprung up after his “philosophical death” of 1906 will grow into fully fledged novels, and most importantly he will “leap over” his scepticism to embrace catholic faith in 1919. 

Boris Ignatovich - Hermitage - 1931

The papinesque automythdepicts him setting to work on his magnum opus, the “Storia de Cristo” as an atheist, and warming up to the faith as his close reading of the gospels ignited the embers of his idealism. A recurrent concern in Papini’s work, as with many of his time and milieu, is with the potency, the impact, of art on life: here writing itself operate the conversion, granting it the thaumaturgic qualities Papini had long demanded.
It would be wrong to depicts Papini’s conversion as one more publicity stunt, or just another contrived provocation, as some of his contemporaries have done (LOVREGLIO 1975, 227) – it is in fact precisely in the most inflexible nihilism of his youth we should look for that mystical disposition that has led him from early on to gravitate around religion (PAPINI 2011, 37). He himself writes in the foreword to his Storia de Cristo, “The author of this book once wrote another one, many years ago, to tell the sad life of a man who wanted, at one point, to become God. Now, in the maturity of age and consciousness, he attempts to write the life of a God that made itself man.” (PAPINI 2010, 51);

But more than a contortion to find some continuity in his variegated existence, there is no doubt some some truth in this parallel. The failure to reach godhood must have played its part in his later choosing the more humble and gemütlich path of merely partaking in the divine. This said, to my knowledge, his future writing as a catholic superstar do not engage with origenian or other “authorized” discussions of deification.
His need to act on the world, to make a durable mark on his age, lure him out of his ivory tower: he comes to admit that acting upon men demand “sympathy and love,” demands “a direct and quotidian contact with all, with men of the city and men of the country, with school children and factory workers, with the women who hope and those who suffer”  (PAPINI 2009, 204) – already by then, the program of his strapaesian populism contains the words and seeds of his future Catholicism.
And to justify his old habit of boisterous indictments, he gives it an unexpected twist: 
Men, I love you, as few loved you. All my inner life is filled with the profound love.” Never mind the fact that a few pages earlier he had claimed his writing was the honest portraiture of that inner life. He goes on: “I would like to see you greater, happier, purer, nobler and more powerful. And my greatest dream would be to be your true and greatest redeemer.” (PAPINI 2009, 206). Hence his blasphemous project to dethrone God is reconstructed into a messiah complex somewhat more sympathetic to the christian values.

In fact shortly after, Papini reveals (maybe unwittingly) a paradox of his metaphysics – or lack of thereof: from his earliest writings but increasingly after Il Crepusculo (1906) he articulates his own creativity in terms of inspiration: nothing very original there, Papini had read Carlyle and there is little doubts he sees himself on the side of Great Men. Describing the ecstatic fervor of such inspirations he write: “And what have I not done, and what would I not do to be shaken and woken up for one instant, to receive suddenly the mysterious dictation of a revelation!
Be it God that inspires me or the Demon, I do not care: but mat someone greater than me, saner than me, more clairvoyant than me, madder than me, speak through my mouth, write through my hand, think through my thoughts
.” (PAPINI 2009, 209)
Indeed the reader does wonder, when the early Papini spoke of inspiration à la Boccacio, where did he imagine those sacred thoughts came from? Not from the empty sky, surely, and not from the demon either, in whom, for all his talk, Papini believe no more than he did in God? His artistic activity, and subsequently his quriks, were justified from his status as a chosen among men, his belonging to an elite – who watches the watchers and chose the chosen? Here we might well have the roots of Papini’s faith stretching back into his old life of unbelief… 

Ivan Kliun - Unknown title - Omsk - 1910'

Altogether we have a book of great significance which does not seem to have received in the English language (or French, for that matter) the attention that it is due: an increasing number of books explore the connection between the avant-gardes and the radical right, and Papini provides us with a crucial testimony of how to pass from the one to the other. It is both exceptionally biased and clear-headed, in that it was written precisely at the time of the transition, and does not yet attempt to re-write history as to ease the fit between the pieces of the puzzle.
For all his flaws and eccentricities it is easy to relate to, if not to like, Giovanni Papini: the existential questions he is asking, in his exotic dialect, were becoming all pervasive at his time, and haunt most of us to this day. 
His answers, though, are significantly less satisfying.

1 - On Papini being forced into joining the Party, see LOVREGLIO 1973, 141. Despite the sheepish sympathy of the biographer, this account is not to be dismissed as many a catholic writer found actually existing fascism not conservative enough to support it officially. Concerning Papini’s anti-semite activities long before Fascism turned officially to this ideology in 1938, see GUNZBERG 1992, 254. On the same subject, in Italian, see this article.
2 - See Adolf Loos' 1908 "Ornament is Crime". 
3 - in "Il Resto del Carlino", 5th of November 1910.
4 - François Livi , in the French preface, calls the book an "autobiographical myth" - the concept is developed by Westerhoff (in French). 

Adamson, Walter L. 1993. Avant-Garde Florence. From Modernism to Fascism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Deleuzes, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. 1980. Mille Plateaux. Capitalisme et Schizophrénie. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.

Gunzberg, Lynn M. 1992. Strangers at Home : The Jews in the Italian Literary Imagination. Berkeley : University of California Press.

Groys, Boris. 2011. The Total Art of Stalinism. Avant-Garde, Aesthetic, Dictatorship and Beyond. London: Verso Books.

Lovreglio, Janvier. 1973. Giovanni Papini. Un odyssée Intellectuelle entre Dieu et Satan. 4 volumes. Paris : Editions P. Lethielleux.

Mao, Douglas, and Walkowitz, Rebecca L. 2010. Bad Modernisms. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Papini, Giovanni. 2009. Un Homme Fini, trans. Yseult Pelloso. Lausanne : L’Age d’Homme. 

Papini, Giovanni. 2010. Histoire du Christ. Trad. Gerard Genot. Lausanne : L’Age d’Homme. 

Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. London: Yale University Press.

Stirner, Max. 1995. The Ego and its Own. London : Cambridge University Press.  

Strauss, Leo. “German Nhilism”. Ed. Janssens D. & Tanquay D. in Interpretation 26, 3 (1999) 353-78.

Talmon, Jacob L. 1991. Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution: Ideological Polarization in the Twentieth Century. New Brunswick: Transaction publisher

Wilson Smith, Matthew. 2007. The Total Work of Art. From Bayreuth to Cyberspace. New York: Routledge. 


  1. Papini's conversion was probably due to the influence of John Neville Figgis, a Christian theologian. In 1917 appeared his book entitled "The will to freedom : or, The gospel of Nietzsche and the gospel of Christ."

    Figgis, devotes several pages to the relationship between Stirner and Nietzsche. He concludes them by imagining what Stirner's response to Nietzsche would have been had they been contemporaries:

    "I tell you you are a Christian, like all the others, except that you have added self-deception to their vices. You think you are new, yet you are as much a preacher of duty as Lycurgus. Your Dionysus cult is religion back once more. Whether you call it Dionysus or Christ, it is all the same, if you are to fall down in reverence. Capital letters are all idolatry. You even make an idol out of Life. What is Life, pray, that I am to fall down and worship it? I reject the monstrous slavery of your amor fati. Besides, I know nothing about it. I only know that I am here."

    "Poor fellow! You have tried hard to be shocking, and have succeeded only in being silly. You actually talk of redemption, of the salvation of man. Go back to your Frau Pastorin and to Church."

    In this book, Figgis quotes Papini's "Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi" six times. I don't think there is another work on Nietzsche in which Papini is cited. Papini may have known this book and may have become influenced by it?

  2. I have not read Figgis, but I just got myself the pdf and I will read it in time, thanks for pointing him out!

    I am no Nietzsche specialist but it seems to me that his position towards religion varies from romantic pantheism in Philosophy in the Tragic Age, to a discreet acknoweldgement of the dionysiac
    being but one illusion among others, to epistemological rejection of God-susbtance-certainty from On Truth and Lies onward.
    I wonder what Stirner would have made of Kierkegaard? As far as I am concerned, Stirner's sovereignty of the ego seems a lot more idolatrous, in that it demands the negation of the outer world (even if it is only experienced as abstract "resistance to the will") whereas Nietzsche negates the self in favour so as to affirm the world. To an extent it might boil down to a kind of transcendence vs immanence?

    Anyway: concerning Papini, I reckon it was actually a long-winded process: if you look at the crowd of Florence in the 1910', there was from very early on (1905) a desire to escape the "déracinement" diagnosed by Barrès: Soffici's toscanità, or Papini's anti-socialism point already toward the future Recall to order on the post-war.
    Papini had long been eager to dissociate himself from Nietzsche (quite unconvincingly if you ask me) probably because he found the German had become too "mainstream" to his taste. From early on this took the form of a critique of Nietzsche's stance towards Christianity, and in fact the abundant writing concerned with deifications were produced over an unambiguously monotheist and christian background (rather than apotheosis à la Greek or Roman); From his writings its quite clear he had a good knowledge of the Scriptures from the time of Leonardo, he met or appreciated Claudel and Peguy, and some of his early short-stories depict catholic characters quite sympathetically.
    He reported to Lovreglio he only started practicing Christianity to please his wife, whose choice I reckon to be quite telling of his decision to "settle down" in every sense of the way: she seemed like a simple and authentic catholic raised in the countryside, quite faraway from Papini's other recorded relationships (Sibilla Aleramo, Mina Loy) and although it would of course be reductive, in a sense he might have converted to consolidate his marriage.

    All this to say that I don't think we can pin-point a "turning point" in his conversion: Leonardo, La Voce and to an extent Lacerba were all infused with some sense of respect for religion, either as a pursuit of the mind, as a model of social cohesion or as cement to build the nation. What I suspect happened is that in the 1910s he started to become increasingly dissatisfied with the positions available to avant-gardists like himself, and religion, which was once understood as instrumental, became the end in itself.
    Over the next thirty years there is the occasional re-surfacing of anthropocentric, even egoist/solipsist themes, and it would seem at the dusk of his life there was a return to the demands of authorship and originality with his deviation from orthodoxy.

  3. Papini wrote a number of articles from 1908-1914 which would lead one to believe that he had always been a staunch Catholic. He later collected them and edited them in a book, "Polemiche religiose" (1932)
    1/ Christian doctrines possess the mind with greater power than the facts that disprove them, and these doctrines are removed but slowly even under the most convincing evidence. They became associated with so much that is dear to us, during those years when our minds are especially intended to be overpoweringly impressed, that no power of reason can for many years displace them and with some those erroneous impressions are never effaced.

    2/ The very little that is known of Christ has left full play for the imagination of devout followers to color according to their intelligence and the circumstances of the times. We have ocular evidence of a small fraction of what the imagination does for Christianity in the thousands of magnificent paintings and engravings intended to represent Bible scenes. The imagination of the artist in most such pictures is vastly superior to the ideas of the author of that upon which they were founded.

    Richard M. Mitchell, "The Safe Side. A Theistic Refutation of the Divintiy of Christ" (1893); p. 355; p. 96-98

    "much of what Kierkegaard dismisses as the 'crowd' includes the social relations, for the omission of which we now blame Stirner. Perhaps, as Buber (*) suggests, Kierkegaard's 'narrow pass' leads us into the open country of egoism and eventually despair — the very territory of Stirner's 'self'.

    (*) "The Question to the Single One" (1936, in "Between Man and Man")

    Robert L. Perkins, "Sickness Unto Death" (2001)

  4. In "Ecce homo (1912), Papini defends the literal interpretation of the Gospels, and in "I liberi cristiani (1910), he is hostile to the Modernists. This is quite interesting, because Edward Scribner Ames, who was a member of the 'Chicago School' of pragmatism, was impatient with a focus on Christian creeds.

    Ames, in contrast, measured the health of religious belief in terms of its social consequences. He displayed a modernist's impatience with what he considered the 'magical' elements of orthodox Christianity, such as the traditional doctrine of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. In his book "Religion," he asserted that Jesus had survived death not in the form of a bodily resurrection but in the durableness of his ideas and example.

  5. I reckon I need some books to give me a grounding in those those "proto-existentialists" and Perkins seems to do a good job - but his books are too expensive for me atm; Ill keep note of him however, cheers.
    On a separate note: I have also wondered whether Papini's late apocatastasis (in Il Diavolo, 1953) had not been influenced by Whitehead more than by Origen. I dont think there is any mention of Whitehead or process-thought anywhere in Papini, which nearly surprises me. I guess at some point I will try and cross check with the list of his correspondence that can be found here:

    On Papini and modernism, I can give you what Lovreglio wrote on the subject (in French, but also and in details) : there seems to be a transition in 1907 (marriage with Giacinta & end of Leonardo) from etic to emic: his interest in religions during Leonardo is essntially utiliatrian, either in the sense of James or in that of Sorel, After what seems a depressive episode and a trip to Paris where he goes to Notre Dame for Xmas, in 1908 he stays for a time with his pregnant wife in Milan where he meets Alessandro Casati and Tomaso Gallarati Scotti, whom Lovreglio present us as leaders of Italian modernism. Follows his progressive distanciation of the movement, for which he quotes the following publications: I liberi cristaini (Il Resto del Carlino, 13.08.1910), Ecce Deus (La Stampa, 12.10.1912) Puzzo di Cristianucci (La Voce, 9.01.1913) which I think are in Polemiche Religiose you refered to earlier.
    I think at that point, Papini was quite up for "modernizing" the Church, but appaled by the rationalized and positivistic proposals of the liberal modernists: although he probably doubted the veracity of the miracles (as he duly doubted the veracity of pretty much everything else) he also acknowledged the power that miracles held over the collective imagination: a Church without miracles was probably pretty close to the disenchanted Giolittian democracy he was so fond to denounce.
    Ultimately the transition seems to me to take place between two roles: he starts as an outside observer, sitting somewhat uncomfortably in his pragmatic "Papini corridor" and peeping through the doors, and eventually he decides that his claim to remain objective and distant from the delusions he preached to the masses has become untenable.

  6. Concerning Whitehead:

    Regarding the perspective of objective judgment, Whitehead knows of its soteriological capacity which does not wish hell to any actuality, but salvation. Accordingly, God’s transformative power acts with a “tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved” (Process 346). Nevertheless, Whitehead does not invoke Origin’s eschatological thesis of universal 'apokatastasis': Whitehead’s judgment knows of the possibility not to be saved (“all that can be saved”).

    [pdf] Apocalypse in God - Roland Faber p. 68)
    Concerning Lovreglio, I am in possession of this book. In this connection,I would like to draw your attention to Volume II (La pensée), p. 317: le reniement de "Il Diavolo" dans "Fallimento universale," dernier article de Papini!

    Lovreglio: C'est là indiscutablement le reniement de la thèse soutenue dans "Il Diavolo," car il n'est plus question, pour l'auteur, d'une rédemption possible de Satan, renvoyé ainsi à ses fonctions de tourmenteur des âmes damnées...
    You said: " he probably doubted the veracity of the miracles." This is an interesting observation:

    "when we meet with miracles we do not ask any one to prove to us that they are not true, we simply assume that they are not true. We may ask what foundation lies at the bottom of them, but even when there is no such foundation that we can come at, we are none the less sure that it is only with natural events that we have to do.

    Now that this method men should hesitate to apply rigorously when they come to the Bible miracles, to the Gospel miracles most of all, one may not find very surprising. For the Gospel miracles there are many things to be said which one cannot say for other miracles, and upon the Gospel miracles, too, vastly more depends. But still men have been far too eager to establish their importance, and they have made much to depend upon them which really does not depend upon them at all. For the divine character of the Christian religion may stand, quite apart from the question of any miracles that are connected with it, and one may quite consistently hold to the one while he lets the other go.

    Arthur Kenyon Rogers, "The life and teachings of Jesus; a critical analysis of the sources of the Gospels, together with a study of the sayings of Jesus (1894) (introduction)

  7. Hah I thought you wanted some details on Papini and modernism, but if you have Lovreglio at hand, chances are you know more than me on issue!

    For miracles I can see how their reality accounted for in the Gospels can be overlooked when thinking Christianity as an individual experience but I think for Papini miracles were ideal-types grounding liturgy, which was both the mediation of the individual religious experience legitimized by tradition (although he seemed to waver at times in this conviction) but also the model or microcosm for christianity as a political project (or maybe as a project meant to replace political organisation); In other words miracles worked as sorelian myths or as "abyss of political foundation".

    I somehow thought that Whitehead had been influenced by the universalists - I don't know where I got this from! I probably thought that if redemption is associated with an absolutized process it cannot be partial? Anyway, I am yet to read him; You seem pretty versed in theology, do you have any text (articles or books) to recommed on Papini's religious thought? I've got Rémi Rizzo and Vintila Horia, and one book of Yves Ledure, but I wonder if there is any more (English, French or Italian) I have missed?

  8. Giovanni Papini did not explain the reason for his conversion until many years later when he published an article in 1932 (published in "La pietra infernale" later), entitled "Il Croce e la croce."

    ... "Durante la guerra, e specie negli ultimi tempi, fui profondamente rattristato dallo spettacolo di tante rovine e di tanti dolori ... Il Cristianesimo dunque mi apparve, in un primo tempo, come un rimedio ai mali dell'umanità ma, proseguendo nelle mie solitarie e ansiose meditazioni, venni a proseguendo nelle mie solitarie e ansiose meditazioni, venni a persuadermi che il Cristo, maestro di una morale così opposta alla natura degli uomoni (sic), non poteva essere stato soltanto uomono ma Dio ... e perchè in essa soltanto mi parve che fiorisce abondante e splendente il tipo d'eroe che ritengo il più alto: il Santo." (pp. 150-153)

    cf. William P. Giuliano, "Spiritual Evolution of Giovanni Papini"

    [PDF] Spiritual Evolution of Giovanni Papini by William P. Giuliano


    Is this convincing enough?

    1/ "Il Papini laico non sia mai stato del tutto recuperato dal Papini cristiano e, come c'era stata una religiosità di Dante prima della conversione, così permanga un suo sotterraneo ma ostinato laicismo anche negli anni ultimi."

    Giovanni Papini, Rapporto sugli Uomini [Note introduttiva di Luigi Baldacci , pagina 8]

    2/ "[Il] dubbio laico e destinato a rimanere illiquidato in Papini anche dopo la conversione."

    Giona Tuccini, "Il Pragmatismo di Gian Falco: Giovanni Papini 1903-1907" (pagina 26)


    "Christianity is only adapted to a very limited number of minds ; that, for one reason or another, the many, called as they may be, will not "hear the word and understand it." And this is exactly what
    has happened without interruption, for nearly two thousand years ; Christendom has never been evangelized, nor near being evangelized. Even the smallest and most select communities of religious persons have their backsliders and formalists, who are, to use Mr. Spurgeon's words, as religious as
    the seats they sit on."

    James Cotter Morison, "The Service of Man: An Essay Towards the Religion of the Future" (1887) (p. 225)

  9. I am suspicious of Papini's account of his own conversion: he did write some rather bellicose pieces even after the end of the war. His conversion at the sight of the "horrors of the war" seems a bit easy: the "purification" and regeneration him and fellow avant-gardists expected from the war relied precisely on its horror and its deadly toll. What on the other hand might have changed his mind is the humiliation of being refused wtice by the army: Adressing Cardarelli who just expressed the thought that the role of the poet was not on the front, Scipio Slataper, whose nationalism was much milder than that of Papini, is reported to have answered "Cardarelli, you are a coward, and thus not even a man! and who is not a man cannot be a poet;" (in Scipio Slataper, Années de jeunesses qui vous ouvrez tremblantes, Gallimard, 1996, p.166); At any rate I think there are more than one reason to his conversion, and that many of those preceded the war.

    Now as to the political project incipient in Papini's catholicism, I was thinking of his promotion of European unity after WW1 (in La Vraie Italie, cf. Lovreglio 2: La Pensée, p.48) and that of universal brotherhood in Lettere agli uomini del Papa Celestino VI after WW2. Admitedly La Vrai Italie seems to grow out of I superstati, which is hardly catholic in mood, but the transition from a pan-latinist (rather widespread among French and Italian avant-gardes) to a pacific European unity does demand some input, which the chronology could indicate to be his conversion.

  10. I agree: "We are discovering that Europe, or rather all the human race, is destined to disasters always more and more terrible, if it does not achieve the reconstruction of a great political union, which may not be precisely the Roman Empire, but which shall, at any rate, be a multiform organism governed by a single body of laws and by one supreme authority."

    Giovanni Papini, " Dante vivo" (p. 43)

  11. Something else:

    Primitive Christianity began to be corrupted toward the close of the first century.

    Adin Ballou, "Primitive Christianity and its Corruptions" (1870)

    To ascertain what the Christian Religion really is, I depend entirely on the Scriptures of the New Testament, together with their necessary references in the more ancient Scriptures, and in Nature. I pay no deference to the dogmas, opinions, expositions and representations of the Christian Religion, as now held by the nominal Church of the various denominations; nor to the decisions of Councils; nor to Ecclesiastical traditions, commentaries, glosses, catechisms, systems of scholastic divinity, or creeds; nor to any Writings subsequent to those of the Evangelists and Apostles. I go directly to the Bible, especially to the Scriptures of the New Testament, and most confidently to the four Gospels.

    Jesus Christ did not leave Writings under his own hand, containing a complete statement of the doctrines and duties of his religion. We are left without one word purporting to have been penned by him; and with nothing from his disciples but synoptical reports of his teachings and life.

    To be the oracular Medium of essential divine principles - eternal, fundamental, universal principles - required a mind at the very head of the human race, a representative of the highest spiritual capabilities, one through whom the Divine Love and Wisdom might flow forth to all ages in incorruptible purity. Such an One was the man Christ Jesus. His Religion is one of essential divine principles. It is therefore a universal Religion. He knew that the same Spirit of Truth which had spoken through his visible humanity, would flow into the minds of men in all coming time, and would magnify the same divine principles, in ever-living applications to the wants of each succeeding age.

    In his journal of Feb. 16, 1886, Ballou wrote:

    Commenced reading a lately purchased book, Count Tolstoy's "My Religion." Found many good things in it on ethics, with here and there an indiscriminating extremism in the application of Christ's precepts ... His ideas concerning the divine nature, human nature, eternal life, Christ's resurrection, humanity's immortality, and the immortality of individuals, etc., are untrue, visionary, chaotic, and pitiably puerile.


    How might Papini have counter-argued?

    Perhaps he might have counter-argued that one you need not be afraid that a vivid realisation of Christ's humanity will necessarily make you sceptical about His divinity. On the contrary, it is in the superhuman beauty of His human life that we have the strongest, the only thoroughly convincing and irrefutable, proof of the fact that, in a very special and unique sense. He came forth from God. It is not by reading disquisitions upon His divinity that we best see the God-likeness of Christ. It is rather by studying His human life as it is unfolded in the Gospels, and in one or two books which have succeeded in catching the spirit of the Gospels.

    Alfred Williams Momerie, "Defects of Modern Christianity" (1885) (p. 66)


    BTW, the fact that Christianity has survived into modern times is, no doubt, owing to the large element of Greek philosophy(*) grafted on this religion by the Greek and latin fathers, and even by St. Paul.

    James Cotter Morison, "The Service of Man: An Essay Towards the Religion of the Future" (1887), (p. 256)

    (*) In "Le platonisme dévoilé ou Essai touchant le verbe platonicien," Jacques Souverain argued that the Christians took their notions of the Trinity, the divinity of jesus, etc... from the Platonists.

  12. I think what links Papini's "Toscanità" period, his anti-socialist populism, and his Catholicism (and maybe even his early sympathy for A. Reghini) is his reverence for tradition as such:
    In a sense there seemed to be no innovation, no transgression possible after that absolute "transvaluation" achieved by Christ in Storia di Cristo. But was this "transvaluation" or "over-turning" of all values achieved by Christ's divine nature or his (super)human nature? I don't think the definite answer is to be found in the Storia, and I do not know the rest of his catholic writing to have a definitive opinion. He does insist, however, in that most quoted passage that the Storia is a book about a God made man, rather than one about a man trying to become a god (as in Un uomo finito), and he shows little love for XIXth century accounts of "Jesus the man" in the introductory pages of his book.

  13. " I do not know the rest of his catholic writing to have a definitive opinion"

    He collaborated with "Corriere della Sera," contributing articles that were published as a volume ("Le Felicità dell'Infelice") after his death. There is article titled: "Platone come 'figura' di Cristo."

    He writes: (...) "Platone possa essere una delle 'figure' pagane di Cristo. ... Tre secoli dopo la tragedia del Calvario la filosofia di Platone devenne e rimase per mille anni una delle più vive fonti della teologia cristiana."

    In a quote below it is stated: "his attitude toward his material is uncritical." Indeed:

    "it may be said that we find here (the early catacombs) no elaborate Christology, no deification of Jesus, no trinitarian dogma, no horror of eternal punishment, no theology even, save the simplest expression of theism. We find evidence of a Christianity scarcely differentiated from the surrounding Paganism, save in its disuse of polytheistic symbols ; but little affected by theological controversies or state persecutions; cherishing gladly a simple trust in the leadership of that Good Shepherd in whose fold there was no distinction of birth, of riches, or of social position."

    Lewis George Janes, "A Study of Primitive Christianity" (1886) (chapter x)
    This quote is from a review:

    The author [Giovanni Papini] assumes that Jesus was a divine man, the Son of God; he makes no attempt to prove that. And then he uses his biblical material and interprets it in such a spiritual way as to make it fit in with his conception of the person of Christ. There is no candid, scientific inquiry into what words and phrases meant to the original writers.

    This is an artistic book. The author says it was his purpose to write artistically and we believe he has succeeded. If his attitude toward his material is uncritical, his use and arrangement of the material at hand is entirely artistic. It is as if an artist, at his easel in his studio, with his colors before him, were to paint the landscape which he had sketched in the open, and were to be guided not only by a desire to reproduce the scene which he saw, but were equally influenced by the effect which he desired to make on those who should look at his picture.

    Sometimes this artistry manifests itself in little gems of insight. His telling of the story of the Prodigal Son is exquisite beyond description. Sometimes it seems to protrude itself, as if one were to hang a festoon on the Taj Mahal. But for the most part this artistry lends itself to producing an effect as of sculpture, not much background, simply a great truth embodied in deeds.

    Quote from another review:

    His book is rather dogmatic — a dogmatism all his own and not ecclesiastical — it is also uncritical and even more imaginatively picturesque than that of Renan. Yet it is one of the best literary lives of our Lord ever written, one which is based on a mastery of early Christian literature and a strong conviction of the historic credibility of the Four Gospels.

    Giovanni Papini may not equal intellectually such other great living Italians as Croce and Gentile, but as a personality he is more bewilderingly fascinating and as a writer more magnetic. He employs the historic imagination with historic fidelity. He is a noble example of the modern drift toward the valuation of Christianity as the supreme solution of all human problems and the one ultimate and imperishable religion.

  14. I have German translation of his book "Giudizio universale." On page 172 is stated the following:

    "Das Schauspiel des Alltagslebens der sogenannten christlichen Völker bestärkte mich in jenen Zweifeln und legte mir den Gedanken nahe, daß meine Bekehrung ein Irrtum gewesen sei."

    Translation: "The spectacle of the daily life of the so-called Christian nations confirmed my doubts and suggested to me the idea that my conversion was a mistake."

  15. That's quite surprising he would pick Plato as a precursor for Christianity. Of course the shared concerned with the Logos explains it away, but Justin Martyr cites, I think, Socrates and Heraclitus as Christians before Christ: I would have thought that Papini would rather go with Heraclitus than with Plato, given his previous philosophical credentials.
    If anything this "platonism" sounds somewhat like Soffici's aesthetics, which in the 1910s have a concern with substance, contours and clarity, probably influenced by the critical discourse of the Action Française.
    Did Papini refer a lot to scriptural-era Christianity? I haven't read his book on Augustine yet but I wonder what he makes of the doctrine of grace, which I would think to crystallize the difference -on an emotional level- between platonism and christianity.

    That quote from Giudizio universale is very interesting - do you think -as piously does Lovreglio in his analysis Fallimento Universale you quoted above, that Papini returned into the fold before his death, or did he retain this defiance of the Church to the end?

  16. " I would have thought that Papini would rather go with Heraclitus"

    Giovanni Papini, "Les Extrêmes de l'activité théorique."

    "The extremes are: intuition-gnostic fact, elementary, immediate-and concept, an idea general and universal, the abstract that is expressed in symbols, simple and definite." Until now, the concept triumphed over intuition in philosophy, and philosophy has been rationalistic. Papini sketches this idea from HERACLITUS to the present. Recently, he argues, there has been an anti-rationalistic turn, which is a move away from symbols to things (choses). This movement affirms the humanity of the philosopher and critiques intellectualism and its instruments (language and logic). The advocates of this view then wish to "return to the particular, to plurality, to the individual, to action."

    John R. Shook, "Pragmatism: An Annotated Bibliography, 1898-1940" (1997); (p. 77)


    "Did Papini refer a lot to scriptural-era Christianity?"

    Giovanni Papini quotes Lactantius, a Third Century Christian writer, from his apologetic work, Divinac Institutines 11.9: "Before creating the world, God produced a spirit like himself replete with the virtues of the Father. Later He made another, in whom the mark of divine origin was erased, because this one was besmirched by the poison of jealousy and turned therefore from good to evil. He was jealous of his older brother who, remaining united with the Father, insured his affection unto himself. This being who from good became bad is called devil by the Greeks."

    Papini concludes that, "According to Lactantius, Lucifer would have been nothing less than the brother of the logos, of the word, ie. of the second person of the trinity" (Giovanni Papini, "The Devil", p. 81).


    Wether Papini returned into the fold before his death, or did he retain this defiance of the Church to the end?

    Unfortunately, I cannot not confirm nor deny this. But I wonder if he is was ever aware that Christ "became, in the mistaken conception of most professing Christians, the Supreme Dictator and Arbiter of all civil, political, military, and governmental affairs on earth, - by whom kings reign, princes decree justice, and the whole machinery of legishition, penal infliction, and warlike force operates. On this basis the church assumed to be the superior, the counsellor, and, to a great extent, the director of the state, wherever the twain could be united ; all in the name of Christ.

    When the church said. Make war against those heathens, or infidels, or heretics ; go on a bloody crusade against them ; dash them in pieces ; crush them out, and destroy them, - it was all to be done in the name and by the authority of Christ, - all consecrated with Christian praters and benedictions. This horrible abomination has rolled on in blood now for long centuries, metamorphosing the Prince of Peace into a Deific Dragon, who is sure to triumph by the destructions of eternity, if not here in time.

  17. This was a quote from Adin Ballou, " Primitive Christianity and its corruptions." Vol I, p. 281