Saturday, April 15, 2023

Evola on Italian public TV

Guest post by Davide Marino

Rai 3, a state-owned Italian TV channel (traditionally considered the most left-leaning channel of Italian public television) broadcast a 35-minute program on Julius Evola on 30 March 2022. The episode, which can be seen here (in Italian), belonged to a series entitled “Passato e Presente” (Past and Present), a daily show in which the host, the political journalist Paolo Mieli, discusses with a guest historian (and three history students) a historical event or figure. The guest on the show was Alessandra Tarquini, Associate Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Rome Sapienza and author of a good Storia della cultura fascista (History of Fascist Culture).

The episode was divided into three parts, mainly following the periodization used by Evola himself in his autobiography Il cammino del cinabro (The Path of Cinnabar). Part 1 described Evola’s artistic period, his juvenile enthusiasm for Futurism and Dadaism, and his relationship with important exponents of the Italian culture of his time. Part 2 discussed his relationship with the Fascist and Nazi regimes and his Sintesi di dottrina della razza (Synthesis of the Doctrine of Race), presented as different from Rosenberg’s “biological racism.” Part 3 followed Evola in post-war Italy where, after being accused (and later acquitted) of being the inspiration for a neofascist bombing attempt, he became an influential figure for the extra-parliamentary Right.

None of the participants is a sympathizer of Evola’s ideas, and Mieli introduced him as “ultra-fascist, more than fascist, anti-Semitic without a doubt, [...] and appreciated by Mussolini.” However the discussion remained calm and factual, and Evola was described as “an original philosopher, useful for understanding the twentieth century”. Even when discussing Evola’s racism, Mieli argued that Sintesi di dottrina della razza contains “horrible theories but formulated in an original manner,” more sophisticated than other contemporary racist authors.

Not everyone in Italy appreciated this approach, which was considered by some as an attempt to whitewash Evola. In Italy, the public discourse remains extremely polarized and Evola is normally either celebrated as a master by Far-Right circles or, in the famous formulation of Furio Jesi, considered “a racist so dirty that it is repugnant to touch him with one’s own fingers.”

The scope of the episode was, however, limited. With the exception of the Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara, Hegel and Nietzsche, there is no mention of the European culture that really influenced Evola. Bachofen is never mentioned and, most importantly, nobody explained that Evola’s “Traditionalism” was influenced by Guénon, not even when discussing Evola’s Rivolta contro il mondo moderno (Revolt Against the Modern World). Also, Mieli correctly noted that Evola’s “tradition” was “invented”, but not that his “Orient” (today quite influential in Italy) was constructed among similar lines (as recently demonstrated by Filippo Pedretti, see article here). Similarly, there was no mention of the enormous influence that Evola had, and still has, outside Italy, and the presenters ended the program by stating that “there are no Evolians,” which is hardly the case.

At the end of each episode, the guest historian normally recommends three books about the topic discussed, normally one primary source and two books of critical literature. However, in this case, Alessandra Tarquini simply pointed to three of Evola’s own books (Imperialismo pagano, Rivolta contro il mondo moderno, and Il cammino del cinabro), saying that “given the complexity of this author, the best thing to do is to start reading him”. This is hardly true. Complex and controversial authors need more critical literature, not less. The truth is that, to date, not much serious academic work on Evola has been published in Italian, and those who study Evola prefer to publish in English, a language inaccessible to a large part of Rai 3’s audience.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Traditionalism and Urdu literature

A new article discusses the encounter with Traditionalism of one of Pakistan’s leading literary critics, Muhammad Hasan Askari (1919-1978, see photo). It is by Arian Hopf, "Muhammad Hasan Askari: Mulla-Turned Modernist or Saviour of Tradition?" Zeitschrift für Indologie und Südasienstudien 39 (2022): 1-32. 

Askari was one of Pakistan’s leading literary critics, earlier a member of the socialist and anti-colonial Progressive Writer’s Association, influenced by Anton Chekhov and T. S. Eliot. After hearing of Guénon in 1947, he wrote “perhaps he expresses some satisfactory ideas.’’ After reading Guénon, he became a “hard” Traditionalist, following Guénon’s line mostly letter for letter, and preparing—but never publishing—what was in effect an Urdu version of Guénon’s Crisis of the Modern World, entitled Modernity, or a History of Western Aberrations (Jadīdiyat yā maghribī gumrāhiyūn̲ kī tārīkh). He called tradition revāyat, literally ‘narration’, and distinguished it from ʻādat, custom. 

Askari applied Traditionalism to the question that had occupied him for most of his professional life, Urdu literature. While he had once argued in favor of strengthening the Urdu element in a fusion of Urdu and Western literary norms, in his Traditionalist phase he argued that Urdu and Western literature could not be combined as they were fundamentally different. Western literature was based on individual experience and a study of character precisely because the West had lost tradition, while Urdu literature was the literature of a Muslim culture that had not lost the tradition. As such, Urdu literature should be based in traditional metaphysics and serve as a means to self-realization (ʻirfān). 

Askari was, however, pessimistic about the chances of Urdu literature achieving this ideal, given the extent to which it had already been adulterated by Western literature. Perhaps he knew the realities of the modern Orient better than the young Guénon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Guénon in The Philosophical Forum

Following on Professor Wael Hallaq’s academically Traditionalist book Restating Orientalism: A Critique of Modern Knowledge (see blog post here), another scholarly article has appeared, in the venerable journal The Philosophical Forum, by Noah H. Taj. This is "On rooting religious studies: The metaphysical proposal of René Guénon," and can be read here. The abstract is:

The   present   article   problematizes   current   dominating   approaches  to  method  and  theory  in  the  study  of  religion  by  pointing  to  their  inapplicability  to  theorists  working  outside secular worldviews. The first section of this article introduces  decolonialist  narratives  by  touching  on  important topics which are subsumed within larger discussions, such as secularism, positionality, and others. This is done by putting René Guénon (1886–1951) in conversation with other  theorists,  the  foremost  of  whom  is  Bruce  Lincoln.  Section two introduces Guénon using Wael Hallaq's categorisation of him as a subversive author, and sections three and  four  elaborate  on  his  subversion  through  touching  on  two key theories. The first relates to problematizations of the term ‘religion’ itself along with a treatment of Guénon's actual  theory  of  religion.  The  second  is  Guénon's  metaphysical  method,  which,  contrasted  against  the  historical,  opens  new  avenues  for  our  study  of  the  past  in  manners  unrestricted  to  materialism  alone,  expanding  thereby  the  academic frameworks with which we come to the table in the academic study of religion.