Fiction · 09/05/2018

The End of Everydayism: A Tale of Art Fiction

Translated by Ramon Glazov

“Man of wit.
Everything’s legit.”
—J. Buridan

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[From a home encyclopedia in the year 3000:]

Topic: ART or DEPICTION

“A phenomenon born with man, but extinguished before him with the murder of Pope Benedict XVI on February 25, 1995” (ref: Goldsmith, Dies Irae, Dies Illa — Global Library).

It comprised the instinct to reproduce, more or less faithfully, images caught by the retina. An explanation of the phenomenon came only after the invention of microcells by Rommler (1998), which enabled Oddendi’s Incision, the definitive procedure for the fine-tuning of the basal metabolism. Surrounding conditions could allow artists to bring their names to the attention of remarkable numbers of people (approximately 600,000 for Salvador Dali alone in Paris, 1950).

Still intriguing today, for the sensation they elicit in the viewer, are several depictions (ref: Comollo, “The Faces of Cicero and an Unknown Senator in an Ancient Roman Depiction”) where the faces seem to differ from life only by the absence of nervous contractions. Other depictions, in contrast, appear unintelligible to us (ref: Comollo, Impressionism or Astigmatism? — Glob. Lib.).

After the World Revolution of 1986-89, the phenomenon increasingly began to dwindle and localize, concluding in the so-called “Everydayist” movement, headed by Maurice Bataille in Paris and Emilio Eboli in Turin (ref: Comollo, The Technics of Embalming in Everydayism — Glob. Lib.).

The murder of Pope Benedict XVI by the artist Emilio Eboli spelled the end of the movement, not least due to intervention by authorities. The aforementioned breakthrough by Rommler then eradicated its source permanently.

Topic: ARTHROSIS … etc.

[The following passages are drawn from The History of Everydayism by Carlo Guiducci (2100-65), Glob. Lib. C. W. 4727:]

(…) And so, on January 10, 1995, Emilio Eboli returned from Paris and went to his home. He had a wife and two adorable baby twins his wife loved so tenderly that they might have been her own, though they were another woman’s offspring, born under the sign of Capricorn. Eboli was exhausted, yet he covered them in kisses all the same; then he retreated to his room where he lay for a while, thinking things over. Maurice Bataille had left him nervous. The manifesto of the artist across the Alps — “It isn’t Custom which determines Art, but Art which determines Custom” — seemed to have reached its full realization. Within the Louvre, along the Champs-Élysées, and as far as the other end of the metropolis, there was a blossoming of works the likes of which had never before been seen: figures in unusual poses, on the most part scantily-clad, holding each other’s hands or giving gestures of diving into the middle of street traffic. Here and there on the Champs-Élysées one saw the embalmed bodies of street urchins clinging to the trunks of chestnut trees like insolent little monkeys, their mouths wide open and their eyes gazing up. A few held on with just one arm while pointing with their other hand to the boulevard below, and staring. Passers-by were confused and more than one was seen turning to the urchins and waving. The gendarmes’ bewilderment made an unforgettable scene. So shrill were their whistles and the screeching brakes of their Citroens (which some pedestrians blamed themselves for inviting) that anyone who didn’t have sturdy ears was obliged to press them down with both palms. No one could believe how much Maurice Bataille had been able to accomplish in just one night. The Eiffel Tower was a sight beyond words; everywhere, from supports, from trusses, human figures dangled in twisted postures while others, curled into fetal balls, lingered perpetually in mid-air, as if a photographer had captured them at that precise instant. Groups of prostitutes, sitting on the asphalt, hugged each other in deeply blissful poses. Citizens left with voiceless decrees of shock and authorities dragged off their protégés elsewhere, to look at swans floating in garden ponds which Bataille’s art had not yet touched. The Ministry of the Interior did not intervene.

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The New Year came at last and everyone wanted to be Maurice Bataille. The great organ of Notre Dame, frozen on a reproachful chord, served for nothing. Tree after tree teemed with grasping citizens as one by one the figures from the previous day were scavenged or destroyed. Their garments fell like dry leaves. Art was trickling into Custom, and from above Maurice Bataille watched his triumph.

That whole night, Emilio Eboli couldn’t sleep. The memory kept haunting him. While his wife was sleeping like a log in the other room, an untamable despair was taking him over, bit by bit. What was going on in the French capital? Had Maurice Bataille, a man without rules or morals, found the mot juste that Eboli and his disciples had been hopelessly seeking for years?

Following in the Frenchman’s footsteps was impossible; life had taught Eboli that the only worthwhile choice among human actions was to push forward.

He got out of bed and went to look in the mirror. He found himself pale and disheveled. His shoulders were covered in dandruff and a deep crease cut across his forehead like a scar. He opened a drawer and saw his revolver gleaming inside. It would’ve made everything easier if he’d had the courage to squeeze the trigger. Death was quite familiar to him, as it was to all Everydayists, and reaching it, furthermore, took no great effort. But instead he put the weapon back and went to dunk his hands in the sink. Icy water enveloped his wrists, spreading a vague but desirable sensation through his whole being. He felt serenity — the great serenity of a self-aware artist — ousting his former despair and lending him new vigor. He sat at his bedside table and pulled out the lengthy manifesto, written by his own hand two years before, which had wiped out every trace of yesterday’s art in one grave stroke, guiding artists to new and unexplored positions. He reread it:

Artists, (it said near the end) comrades in art and in craft! If you, too, are in the dark about my motives for breaking my paintbrushes and stepping down into the street to blend my works with the rhythm of everyday life, remember this: by now the time has come to crown human beings with laurels and bend our knees respectfully in their presence instead of presuming to “transform” them. To quote Buenin: Man has grown worthy to be the stamp of our art.

Signed, EMILIO EBOLI

Eyes sparkling, Emilio Eboli put the epistle down on his bed and rose to his feet. He’d changed from a short while earlier. His gaze stripped all the sorrow from his paleness and turned his face into a mask of willful intensity. He ran a hand over his forehead and his memory flew back several years. He imagined those momentous times again, when the new art was bursting into the streets and the crowd looked at him and his comrades with fervent and sincere wonder.

In those days, Maurice Bataille had been nothing more than a bright-eyed kid, passing haphazardly through Italy with a tourist’s backpack and a boy scout haircut. Eboli remembered he’d seen the boy (so he learned afterward) standing quite rigid in an avenue and watching him as he made the final touch-ups to a work. It was the year he’d been working on his Man with Red Bow and his Flowerless Leda: a sad-faced little rich girl who stood under the porticoes with her purse in her left hand and her right hand positioned as if to hold a bunch of flowers that had been snatched away at that very moment.

Ezio Verganti and Roberto Calegari had been with him. They’d been the first to follow him, and the most eager. Both were killed in a car crash later that year while crossing a piazza together with their precious cargo, the collaborative work, Passer-by Near the Chamber of Commerce, With Leek. It drew so much public sympathy that, later that same day, it was set down outside the yellow building in the exact spot where the artists had intended to deposit it. The work still existed and all the people who passed it on their way to work each morning saw it and recognized themselves and their own daily pressures.

No, Maurice Bataille couldn’t supplant him. Art had nothing to add to reality. The greatness of the Everyman was in itself enough, and no “historic occasion,” as Bataille called it, had any right to prevail over the “eternal here-and-now” in which man lived and glorified himself through his everyday efforts, his modest deeds, his sacrifices.

Morning came. Emilio Eboli went to the wall where a map of the city was hanging and looked with satisfaction at the numerous little flags that marked the locations of his most celebrated works. How much time it had taken! He thought of Mayor Allori and unconsciously began to smile. In the early days, he’d had no small battle convincing the mayor to grant him a few lengths of sidewalk on which to erect his works and allow him to cordon them off with rope so that citizens didn’t accost them at night, fooled by their amazing realism. Allori was a stubborn little man, but generous at heart. It was the abundant “human element” of Everydayism that finally convinced him to sign the document that would leave Emilio Eboli free to organize the sidewalks of his city in whichever way inspiration demanded.

“My dear Mr. Eboli, let me tell you,” — the mayor had exclaimed, while seeing him out the door — “you’re a pretty decent fellow.”

They shook hands and then, one after the other, burst into friendly laughter.

Then came the time for major fine-tuning. The wax that the Everydayists had initially been working with was no longer enough; it melted in the sun, and their maiden efforts at attaining verisimilitude were long and futile. The part that had to be gained at all costs, the foundation on which to build their masterstroke, was already available in nature, and in much better quality; they only needed to get an additional permit so they could have it at their disposal.

Mayor Allori greeted the artist a second time like a friend whose intentions couldn’t be predicted, a species of satyr with a deft and fanciful way of speaking. It was a momentous day.

“The morgue?” — he asked — “Yes, my dear Mr Eboli, I understand, but what you’re asking from me is stupendous. The morgue! But what will the people say?”

“The people?! Your Excellency, we’re catering to their very wishes. Is there any greater way to honor Man than to remove every boundary between him and art? Isn’t that more or less what happened in the time of Christ, when the Son of God came down on Earth and became flesh, precisely because Man was the image of His Eternal Father?”

“I understand, honestly, I do,” — the mayor resumed — “but, my dear Mr. Eboli, embalming the dead seems to me like… like a huge step forward!”

“Are we here to step forward or turn back? If you’re inclined to the latter option, Your Excellency, then my presence here won’t help you in any way, and you’ll permit me without further ado to take my leave.”

“Now, now, Mr. Eboli, I didn’t mean it like that, but you know, with uneducated people — and the clergy…”

“With regard to the uneducated, Your Excellency, it’s exactly these people we’re addressing; as for the clergy… let me just say… in the times we’re living in… just let me say, Your Excellency, that… as for the clergy…”

The mayor gave a hearty laugh and even banged Eboli on the shoulder this time, reddening with excitement.

“My dear Mr. Eboli, if only the world was full of people like you!” he said. “There you go, your document! And may God bless you, you bedeviled young man!”

“And please remember,” he continued, heading down the stairwell, “remember your poor old mayor too some time, since you know, modesty aside…”

For the rest of that day Emilio Eboli didn’t have a moment’s peace. White as a peace-flag, but pulsing with hidden exuberance, he flourished the signed paper and carried his happy story to every place where his art had disciples.

Attilio Burrati, Angelo Consiglio and Modesto Configliacco welcomed him with open arms like a brother they’d never loved or appreciated enough, whose excellence had suddenly and without warning come to light.

“So tell us, Emilio, when are we going to get to work? You’ve got us fired up, and now…” said the ever-capable Burrati.

“When do we get started? If Configliacco here has no objections, then why don’t we start today?”

All of them hurried outside and, racing like fugitives, they entered the street leading to the morgue.

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Urged by his memories, Emilio Eboli went to the bedside table once again and took out his diary, a dark little book, which he opened with nervous fingers at the page of that remarkable day, April 20, 1990.

“Nurses,” — it read — “are you so daft and old-timey that not one of you can understand me? Why do you suppose the mayor sent me here to open the freezers and take away the cadavers?”

And further down, in the minuscule script of a mediaeval goliard: “Doctor Maximus, mentis minimus, quid putas? Ego vitam redonare? &c.…” (“Well, Professor Know-It-All, you pinhead — what do you think? That I’m bringing them back to life?”)

[At this point, our art historian Guiducci gives a long, meticulous description of the diary, its recorded dates, the names of artists or obscure townsfolk written in a rapid hand — by now all distant minutiae, which Guiducci himself admits he is powerless to arrange in a neat historic order. Yet he writes: “(…) And the City Council subsidised them, precisely because, by embalming man and camouflaging him in the midst of everyday life, they would demean themselves as artists, and thus, a very delicate problem of a social nature would find its hoped-for solution.” And further: “(…) What better prospect for Allori in ensuring that artists fell into lockstep and, with some money at the end of the month, threw their liberal endeavours by the wayside?”

[And so we arrive at the second chapter of the affair:]

(…) At four o’clock in the afternoon, Emilio Eboli left his home and met up with Modesto Configliacco, the poet behind “Notes on Evening.”

They found themselves at the street corner where Burrati’s Corner Dog greeted bystanders with its famous sniffing pose [in which the next act was to merge and (we might say) almost coexist, as if in a single four-dimensional moment].

The overnight snow had slightly marred it, crimping its fur, so it seemed to have emerged fresh from the water, like a castaway from the Ark, [a primogenitor, to be frank, of a somewhat peculiar canine breed] as harsh-minded sorts were quick to point out.

[Of Tibetan pedigree, the Corner Dog by Burrati appears to gratify an affected taste, whose ironic sublayer is crudely see-through. As he was better able to express in his Dachshund at the Temple, Burrati…]

Emilio Eboli hastily swept off the last vestiges of snow from the dog and, taking his colleague by the arm, he set off for the Artworks Processing Center — the “Revolving Door” — which was then exhibiting the famous Cogò, about whom so much had been said.

Eboli barely spoke. The sadness seemed to have repossessed him; descriptions of Parisian life came out of his mouth in fits and starts, imprecisely, as if something inside held him back from saying what he’d really seen. He spoke of Bataille as a shadow roaming through Paris, who delighted in producing overnight chaos, with no thoughtful, constructive end. A capable artist, yes, but void of any humane substance or meaning. Configliacco nodded his head. In turn, he recounted what had happened in the city during Eboli’s absence. It seemed Cogò — whose real name was Danilo Svedovic — had arrived days ago (it was his first visit to Turin) with a truly undignified air of self-importance. In one of her typical maneuvers, Ada Bulgaretti, the Center’s Secretary, was directly able to strong-arm the new mayor, Levi, into throwing a soiree to honor this solitary genius. The offered pretext was to symbolically commemorate certain moments of time-honored national history — the indissoluble spirit of friendship between Triestians and Piedmontese. Women and their double-dealing! Bulgaretti’s real purpose, the true seed of her joy, was to have the living voice of a Triestian describe how the mayor of Trieste had given generously to artists, just to humiliate his local counterpart. Mayor Scipio Zeno had been signing permits that left artists free to visit prisons, collect any inmates whose sentences exceeded twenty-five years (a Mr. Sassu Liandru, for instance) and use them at leisure for their projects. Here, of course, it wasn’t a matter of embalming. Murder was against the law and, to make his subjects serviceable, Cogò had to “adjust” them through lobotomy. It was a delicate method, typically Slavic, and rather less practical than the other option. At any rate, Mayor Levi ought to have resented it, swallowed a bit of his pride and, at least for the day, stopped flaunting his patronage as if he were the only one with deep pockets. Women and their foibles! Yet if anyone was hard to provoke, it was Levi himself, who didn’t give Bulgaretti any satisfaction and treated Cogò with flawless civility. He even offered to host him for the few days of his visit and pay for his coach back to Trieste, including space for any works he wasn’t able to sell. Cogò didn’t make transactions except in private, so it was possible that he’d have a few pieces left over. Whether it had been in good taste to invite him here to Turin — bah! — Configliacco didn’t want to discuss it. The APC had a specific duty, and that was to distribute, throughout the city, those works the Committee had deemed worthy; the value of each work corresponded to the stipend provided to each artist by the City Council. There was no need to invite people who might upset this equilibrium that so much effort had achieved.

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So they arrived at the APC and paused for a moment outside the lit window, where a bald man, sitting on a high-backed chair, quite alive, stared out at them with slightly glassy pale-blue eyes. His chest was bare and marked with numerous dichromate lines in a geometric arrangement. It was Cogò’s work, Triangles.

Tightening his jaw, Emilio Eboli gave the glass door an angry shove and let himself in, followed by his colleague.

The air was full of smoke and placid, curiously low voices, as if a spacious velvet cloak was weighing down on all the attendees. Even the undergraduates seemed to have gotten deferential. Standing next to a wall, they were examining a work by the Triestian artist, positioned there like an advertisement to everyone continuing into the next room; they touched it silently, tracing their fingertips along the colored lines of its tattoos. Emilio Eboli’s arrival baffled them slightly. With effort they tore themselves away from their “tactile valuations” and let the artist pass.

In the next room, the magic circle around the Triestian was complete. One saw the backs of Angelo Consiglio, Burrati and the critic Borello, with their sleek intellectual humps, while Ada Bulgaretti’s voice, as impetuous as ever, poked up slightly above the others.

Seated against the wall, or hanging by their armpits, Cogò’s artworks filled the room, illuminated by four spotlights. A thoughtful, open-eyed public studied them at length, one by one, casting long-drawn puffs of smoke at the ceiling. The Center had never seen such trendy visitors before.

Looking around, Emilio Eboli saw an elderly man and thought he recognized him as a now-forgotten figure in the art world. He was shockingly decrepit, but, despite his advanced age, he’d retained his fiery, rapacious gaze from back in the day. Eboli combed his memory in search of a name, and found it. The man was called Cagliero, and he’d been one of the dreariest traders in framed pictures, back when the outdated practice of painting was still classed among the fine arts. Who could have dug him out from his ancient slagheap?

With foreboding, Eboli slowly approached his group of colleagues where he could start to see flashes of the Triestian’s ruddy head, like an unnerving little flame, poking through small gaps in the stampede of admirers.

He felt as if a mean betrayal had been committed, to his own loss and the loss of Everydayism. Ada Bulgaretti, a woman full of pent-up hatreds, had surely taken advantage of his absence to slip in some venomous remark that could dent his efforts and those of his best friends. Everydayism had a stable linchpin to revolve around, and that was Emilio Eboli himself. But without him being there? Could anyone still swear on its unity?

He took Configliacco by the arm and paused to give him a long, hard look in the eye. But what answer could he give his friend, when he himself was astonished at what was happening? Now a man in his thirties, olive-skinned with an aquiline nose, had budged up to Cagliero and the group of artists and, screening himself with his hands, had hissed out an offer.

Emilio Eboli understood that scene all too well; it touched on his whole tormented youth, and the sight filled him with unshakable disgust. So, had the ruthless society of old been waiting for just the right moment to revive itself, reappearing in a shameful, mutilated form, but for that no less menacing? How could his friends have forgotten those humiliating days that had seen them at the mercy of Cagliero and his pitiful recompenses? It was a time when art had wasted away like their meagre faces, while the pedestal of resellers’ banknotes grew ever higher. The bourgeoisie had possessed a mysterious labyrinth through which every passing thing became gold and silver. They’d only needed to stretch out their hands and take. But Calegati? Verganti? Manzetti? Burrati? Had they all been snatched up too?

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One heard an “Excuse me…” and Ada Bulgaretti wriggled away from her group and passed Eboli without noticing him. Promptly, she returned with a glass of water in her hand and went over to irrigate a work that was threatening to collapse from thirst. Emilio Eboli’s proximity struck her at once, like an electric current; startled, she turned around and saw him. He was pale and unkempt; his grey eyes revealed a deeply injured spirit. At the core of her feminine being, a whiff of maternal feeling snuck in, mild and lukewarm, but lasted no more than a moment; her practical spirit brought her back to her usual self, and with a gesture that said “I’ll be with you in a minute” she resumed her duties.

She hadn’t bargained on Eboli’s return from Paris. She’d thought he would have come home after Cogò had already left, roughly within the next week; then she could’ve calmly explained to him how things had gone. But what in the world could she tell him now?

Borello the critic was asking her to pick up where she’d left off in the conversation and pressing her tirelessly to return. But no, not with him around! She knew Eboli too well to risk introducing him to the Triestian; she didn’t want any petty controversies or silly melodramas.

She noticed Configliacco and waved for him to come close. “You can’t get him out of here for just a short while, can you?” she asked him in a low voice.

The poet nodded and, taking Eboli by the arm, led him to the other room.

He’d committed a huge mistake by phoning up Eboli to come to the Center. Even a nosy child, paying the tiniest bit of attention, would have grasped why the mayor had gone out of his way like that for Cogò. He planned to use him to sway the other artists into selling their works privately too, in order to side-step his obligation to sponsor them. He’d brought Cagliero with him as a representative, and made this fact so official that it left no doubts about his recognition by the city authorities. He looked at Emilio. The artist was waxy pale. How to comfort him? More and more each day, Everydayism was losing its interest to intellectuals and the masses alike. A few days earlier, when he’d been in Paris, his Man with Red Bow had been found at ten in the morning with its face squashed flat against the sidewalk; and if it hadn’t been for Configliacco himself, it would have stayed there. Some rascal? Public opinion? The new mayor Levi wasn’t too fussy with his judgment. And now this Cogò had appeared who, regardless of anything, was still an up-and-comer. One could pin high hopes on him and his influence. Cagliero wouldn’t have dared to fleece artists after the Revolution, not like in the old days; at least Burrati and Consiglio could suppose as much, and so could all the hangers-on buzzing around them like flies. As for himself — bah! — Configliacco wasn’t worried. He was a poet. Writing on walls in phosphorus was very different to working on the plastic medium of the human body… Words would always be words, and if he had to go back to writing books… Well, why not?

Emilio Eboli’s exit was met with a general sigh of relief. Everyone came up to Ada Bulgaretti and congratulated her on the hazard she’d dodged. Only Cogò said nothing. He was a remarkable creature, like something that had hurtled down from a distant planet, slender and pensive enough to make anyone around him afraid to touch him.

The critic Malvano arrived and joined the gathering. The air was thick. Ada Bulgaretti invited the Triestian to step out with her a bit, away from that smoke and those voices, but she wasn’t able to grasp whether or not he wanted to. She could detect neither weariness nor enthusiasm in him; his hidden strings didn’t quaver except to the waves of personal reflections and recoiled from every outside intrusion.

The parallel lines cutting across the sitting man’s ‘corpus’” — they were saying around him — “appear distinct from his taut spine, as if in the effort of holding up his head in energetic symmetry. Whereas, in the sitting man, the cranium appears to include a lattice comprised of static monoaxial relations, in the crouching man…

And like that, the “corpus” — in its “sociological-Everydayist” sense — was becoming tidily outmoded. The approaching hour warned artists to get back to their personal projects and rid themselves of old ghosts and dangerous, false preconceptions. Their debt to the uncultured masses had been paid; now they could follow their own paths in freedom and solitude. Were there still salaries to foist on such a lofty, variegated pursuit?

The conversations ran on and on; only in the evening did everyone leave and scatter across the city.

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It was nine o’clock when Modesto Configliacco rang the doorbell of the Eboli house and notified the artist’s wife that her husband would not be coming home that night, and perhaps not the next day either, for urgent matters had forced him to leave the city in a hurry, without time to inform even his family.

A woman accustomed to long and disappointing vigils, Clelia Eboli lowered her head and, ashen-faced, closed the door ever so gently without saying a word.

In the cold night, Configliacco set off for his own home with a heart full of sorrow and dark premonitions, treading the streets where his unfortunate friend’s hand, together with his own, had created the most illustrious monuments to that already-declining art. He passed in front of the Palace of Agriculture, and saw the short poem “Notes on Evening” — which he’d written years ago in a day of choral fervor — glowing on the building’s main façade. The Rogers paints had lost none of their phosphorescence; indeed they seemed to have gotten more dazzling:

Cool notes of evening,

In purest sequence,

Tell the working man

Of that sweet odyssey

That puts his fortunes on par

With his Comrade next door.

Notes fresh as April…

A flurry of memories enveloped him and faded. Everything seemed pointless to him now. Emilio Eboli wasn’t there anymore. He’d fled. He’d run for the Turin Hills like an untamed wolf, never breaking the dreadful silence he’d plunged into since stepping out of the Center. Neither kind words nor tough warnings had been any use. He’d vanished into the dark, and with him, the last champion of Everydayism. What could still be done for his friend? He ran a hand over his forehead and got back on the journey he’d postponed to read his verses. A never-ending heartache overwhelmed him. With his eyes closed, he thought he could glimpse Emilio lying in the snow, gasping and begging for someone to help him. He should never have let him run off like that. Already, he could anticipate the next day’s task of returning to the city with Eboli’s remains, which a few loyal hands would strive hard to exhume.

At last, the poet reached his own roof and the gloomy omens troubling him were smothered in sleep…

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[Chapter 9 — pp. 207-13:]

(…) After roaming at length through city and countryside, Emilio Eboli arrived in Rome on February 18 and settled in a small guesthouse close to Vatican City.

Hard nights sleeping in the open had strengthened his spirit and rid his heart of all of anxiety’s futile nesting places.

To fill the time that still separated him from the sublime moment of his existence, he lay on the bed and filled his lap with the huge bundle of newspapers he’d collected during his wanderings… Chronicles of now-distant events, over which the veil of oblivion was inexorably spreading.

On January 13 a heartrending news item to his memory recalled the clearing of all Everydayist artworks from his city and their demise in crematorium ovens. Mayor Levi, having abolished public grants in the name of artistic freedom, had opened the inmates’ cells and invited Turin’s artists to transform them according to their whims. And so, Cogò’s abstracted man, the “corpus” deprived of ideas and dreams, had appeared in sad copies at their auctions, an enslaved commercial entity. “With this new medium,” — it was written — “it’s no longer a matter of blending ourselves into everyday life, but putting ourselves in a state of collision with reality, an act of will that is cruel but necessary to the revival of the arts.”

Anyone who’d believed in those shapes could not have sustained their personal faith for long.

On February 13, Cagliero the former painting dealer had loosed the floodgates of his typical unchecked greed by reselling certain works by Cogò to Turin’s Institute for Widows and Spinsters. Reports over the next few days exposed what sordid unforeseen uses those women had found for the “abstracted corpora” of the prisoners.

While the “scandal of the old maids” dragged the artists of Turin into ridicule, the culture pages stuck into Maurice Bataille, now citing him next to a phantasmagorical group of urchins, now in the act of flinging a surreal “voila!” at the world with a spilt glass of champagne in the heart of Montmartre, among the iridescent lights of the Parisian night. The critics, at that moment still without solid parallels, seemed to accept blindly anything he gave them in his ceaseless murky lunacy.

Time was passing, and the horizon of the fine arts was steadily darkening. Tired of reading those crumpled pages, Emilio Eboli left the guest house and marched toward the millennia-old ruins of the Roman Forum.

At last, weeks of waiting were set to conclude with the dawn of a new day. That day — at the bidding of internal committees of high and low clergy, of priests of every order and hierarchy from around the world — the first mass strikes would begin, demanding an increase to the State of Grace. Heedless of any authorization by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the churches, archbishoprics, convents and plentiful chapels of the Leonine City would all be vacated, pouring out the black-robed multitude of strikers into squares and streets. That was the apt moment to realize the demanding plan that would give Art and Everydayism their lost energy back. On the same day his flock deserted him — a day of utmost tribulation for his soul — the Supreme Pontiff, symbol of eternal and daily virtue, would offer Art its very own sublime incarnation.

Stirred by the powerful idea that dwelt inside him, Emilio Eboli went up onto the Tarpeian Rock and vented his feelings until sundown by throwing stones at the white pillars of Ancient Rome…

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(…) So came the dawn of a cold and drizzly Sunday. The city was still empty when the first priests began stepping out from their sees and strolling in little groups down paths and sidewalks. Stuck to the church walls, the image of Benedict XVI gazed, pensive and sad, at those processions. A cross traced over his face with plaster proclaimed the state of Metaphysical Exile to which the clergy had confined him.

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When the scheduled time for his act drew near, Emilio Eboli headed down into the street and turned indifferently toward Vatican City. He looked like one of countless tourists from the remote north, accustomed to visiting Rome around the end of autumn with no goal in mind other than a baggage-load of drab souvenirs.

Close to Saint Anne’s Gate, the Noble Guard sat on the sidewalks and steps with their unused halberds resting in a jumble at their feet. At that moment, the Papal Gendarmerie Corps, having left their uniforms behind in the dormitories, came out of the barracks in tatty civilian outfits and made a unanimous departure from the Vatican walls towards the restless city. A gurgle of distant loudspeakers was explaining to citizens how the clergy had ceased to pray for a world that shown nothing but isolation and bitterness. The priests were backing down from their Sunday duties and asking God openly to restore mankind to its lost State of Grace… “Only He,” — a voice cried — “and not our paltry words, can save their souls from the Abyss!”

As if indifferent to human fortunes, eager only to visit with his own eyes what he’d read about in guidebooks and digests, Emilio Eboli approached a Swiss Guard and, amidst the rising hubbub of the speakers, asked where he could find the Cortile della Pigna — the so-called “Pinecone Courtyard” with its coniferous bronze fountain. The exceptional hour, the uproar’s continuing build-up, the triviality of his request, enabled him to enter the Sacred Walls undisturbed… Holding his breath, hearing no sound but his heart’s hurried beating, he set forward, far from the prying eyes of humanity, to give shape to his mighty creative impulse…

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(…) It was at six o’clock the next morning when Monsignor Curto, Privy Chancellor to His Holiness, arrived in a rush at the Vatican, anxious to resume his daily duties: first and foremost, to pass on a report to the Holy Father of events that were already on track to a resolution, in the hope of reassuring him. Afraid to rouse him from his final sleep, he first knocked with caution on the door, but, when an inexplicable silence persisted, he opened it and crept in, slow and gentle on bare feet, to avoid any harmful upsets. What he saw alarmed him… The windows were open despite the cold, the objects in disarray. Some, like the kneeler, were completely upturned, while a large rucksack lay in place of a pillow among the rearranged blankets.

In his long experience at the Apostolic Palace, he couldn’t recall ever having seen the Holy Father strolling through the Vatican Gardens or any other place at that hour. Unable to imagine where he could be, Monsignor Curto drew up to a telephone and dialed the number of the retreat at Castel Gandolfo… A dry voice replied that since the Revolution no Pope had ever again come to spend the autumn within those walls. Then where could he be hidden… ? “What if he fled during the night to Avignon?” thought Monsignor Curto. But no! Being acquainted with the Holy Father as he was, he knew Benedict XVI wasn’t a man to shift the throne entrusted to him by God on the very day of his Great Tribulation. So he put his shoes back on and thought of going down to the Sistine Chapel, to see if, by any luck, the Holy Father might be bent in prayer among the frescoes of the Last Judgment.

After a day of absence, the flock was returning to the fold and finding it deserted. It seemed almost as if the shepherd had hidden himself on purpose to show them how unworthy they’d been of his guidance. But if it were so, why did he also want to throw his Privy Chancellor into unease — the most devoted of all his servants, and, on that day, the most eager to reach him… Brooding on such thoughts, Monsignor Curto entered the Vatican Library and turned toward the small stairway that led to the Chapel. The little door was open, swaying gently and groaning, as if a cold and arcane breeze were moving it. Feeling his throat tighten from a terrible suspicion, Monsignor Curto halted… He looked around in hope that someone might accompany him inside… At last, he made up his mind. The spectacle was horrific. The frescoes had vanished. Neither the Blessed nor the Accursed of the Lord, nor the Sibyls, nor the Christ were visible any longer. Nothing could be seen but a continuous coat of whitish paint spread across the walls and the ceiling. Embalmed, unmoving and lily-white, the Pontiff stared at him from the altar in a benedictory pose. Monsignor Curto couldn’t stand the sight; he tried to flee, but the strength deserted him. A good while passed before the world was informed of what had happened. But no one guessed that Art had been responsible for that atrocious misdeed.

HEMILIUS HEBOLIS
HOC FECIT
ANNO MCMXCV 1

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1. Translator’s Note: “EMILIO EBOLI MADE THIS [in the year] 1995”—the inscription follows the form of a Mediaeval or Renaissance artist’s signature. (“Hemilius Hebolis” is pseudo-Latin; a more accurate Latinization might be “Aemilius Eburensis.”) The signature implies that Eboli is not only the “artist” behind the Pope’s murder, but may secretly be the story’s narrator.

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Giorgio De Maria (1924-2009) was a weird fiction author, critic, playwright and pianist. In the 1960s, he co-founded Cantacronache, an influential avant-garde music group. After illness cut short his career as a pianist, he turned to literature and wrote four disquieting novels, culminating in his masterpiece, The Twenty Days of Turin (1977). A tragic mental breakdown led to his retirement from fiction and he spent his last years as a recluse.

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Ramon Glazov is also the translator of Giorgio De Maria’s 1977 novel, The Twenty Days of Turin. He lives in Australia.