The covered face, between pandemic and revolution

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In a swing between 2020 and the seventies, the philosopher’s first novel Emilio Mazza, We free you (ed. Milieu) is a reflection on the unexpected analogies that history presents, but it also speaks of literature (“that we have forgotten”), of language (“that we have accepted”), of sound (“that we have not heard”) . There is talk of revolution, love and a pandemic.

In your book there is a parallel between the covered faces of the seventies and those of today. Handkerchiefs and masks …
“Handkerchiefs and masks was one of the first titles of the novel, the most descriptive one. One morning there
we got up and found ourselves with our faces covered, thrown into the great procession of the years
Seventy. And with our faces covered, we stormed the supermarkets. But no one expropriated anyone and the law, or rather the decree, prosecuted those who did not cover it, the suspected disseminator of droplets. Drops. So, I thought of telling the story of Tu, which goes from the childhood balaclava of the sixties to the masks of today, passing through the handkerchiefs of adolescence. A story where things get a little confused because maybe they are still a little confused. Where the slogans are transformed into hashtags and there are always those who sing, in the street or on the balcony, even if the words are not the same. Above all, where we discuss at length about faces, just as we discuss about nothing and nothing, we can argue without knowing where to end. It is a life full of anger that never finds peace. But it is also a love story, a couple. We fight to survive. Everyone wears the mask that he has chosen without knowing and that says something about himself; and after a certain age, Camus ruled, everyone is responsible for the face he has (the important thing is to know how to wear it). I think it is also valid for our country: Italy was a long-abandoned asylum due to a lack of members who rejected any new registration that was not Italian in the name of a national identity that never existed except for cliché. Fortune and misfortune of a country in ruins, including ruins, which at times claimed to be a nation, but from the balcony ».

Why are you so worried about the covered face? Can you tell us something about the importance of the face?
“It worries me because the masks hide faces. At school and at work, at the cinema and in shops, sometimes even on the street. Always, less when you drink or eat or stay indoors. Yet, faces are important for us to communicate. From a certain point of view we are obsessed with faces. We even find them in the moon, because we look at them often and carefully, says the philosopher Malebranche, because we have a natural inclination to conceive everything similar to us, answers the philosopher Hume. There are those, like Spinoza, who even spoke of the face of the whole universe. Face is for facing, a friend from New Zealand explained to me: the face is for looking out over the world and others. Faces express and communicate emotions and passions, they are the first tool to understand the intentions of those around us. And we want to see them: a photo, a portrait, even if not very faithful, seems to us better than nothing. Better a cheeky one than a faceless one. The face, Cicero said, is the image, the mirror of the soul. The templates hid the image. The eyes, Cicero always added, are the indexes, the interpreters of the soul. And the masks show them off. But if what is the combination of traits, what happens when an important part is hidden? Usually, when I smile, I do it with my mouth and eyes, but what if I darken my mouth? If I forget I have the mask, am I still sure what I am expressing? The mask questions what I take as a given: the illusion of being read for what I think I am. There is a long history of the “discovery” of the face, which runs through the history of European thought, from the treatises of antiquity to the manuals of today. It is the history of physiognomy, the (presumed) science that judges the inside from the outside, the traits of the soul from those of the body, in particular of the face and eyes. Kant thought that we had a natural tendency to look at faces and that there was a natural physiognomy, even though it would never become a science. Schopenhauer believed that a face could only be deciphered the first time it is seen, based on the first impression. And he was amazed that many people, who have imprinted all their unbearable vulgarity on their faces, did not prefer to wear a mask. Since the face reveals just what it is, Schopenhauer concluded that on Hegel’s, nature had written in its clearest hand what it almost always writes: “vulgar man”. Hegel, for whom the true being of man is the accomplished act, would have responded with a slap, to hit the mark. Darwin protested that he had nothing to do with physiognomy. For him, “science” was another. That of the expression of emotions. He was not interested in the permanent form of traits as a key to understanding our character, but in the expression of different passions. He was looking for the causes. But according to the ancient physiognoms, if one resembles a choleric, one will behave choleric, even without a reason for anger, as if the passion had settled on the face. In any case, we too, today, judge people at first glance, often on the basis of the face.
Unless then correct the first judgment. Even my Hume had let himself go, and had repeated
with Cicero that the eyes are the great index of the mind ».

You are an expert on Hume, a symbol, for many, of skepticism: how much skepticism there is in
world today and how many absolute beliefs?
“I’ve been studying Hume for thirty years, but that doesn’t mean he’s an expert. Speaking of faces, by
his said: “His face was large and fat. His mouth big and without any other
expression if not that of imbecility “. The Parisian philosophers were delighted. The fine and delicate Hume presented himself as a massive man: le gros David, the verb that became flesh. Hume has always proclaimed himself a skeptic. Indeed, a “true” skeptic. Also skeptical of his own skepticism. And since he thought that the origin of his philosophy was pleasure, he would never give up on
innocent satisfaction that his doubts or beliefs could offer him; nor do you
it would be removed from that certainty that arises from an exact and complete examination: on particular points and in a particular instant. A good researcher proceeds cautiously and methodically, and delimits the field of investigation to topics that are suited to his faculties. This lasting and useful skepticism mitigates arrogance and dogmatic prejudices and prevents us from talking about what we do not know nor can we know. Moreover, only a cold and determined philosophical skepticism protects us from the fiery zeal and the sacred fervors of religious sentiments. Skepticism is a serious thing that for this reason does not like to take itself too seriously. You ask me about skepticism in today’s world. Too little, even for the tolerance and irony that it should bring with it, and too many absolute convictions. Above all, too many absolutely unfounded beliefs. But doubt, Hume also knew, takes effort, sometimes makes you uncomfortable and often paralyzes action. There isn’t much room for skepticism in the world. Yet it could be liberating. The world would be too ».


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