From our special correspondent
There are places whose force provokes a step back, a step aside. In Venice, the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of them. Located just in front of the Doge’s Palace, it offers a magnificent perspective on the San Marco canal, the palaces and the bell towers of Venice which, from this exceptional point of view, seem suspended between sea and sky.
In this haven of peace, which was until the eighteenthe century an important Benedictine monastery – a small community still resides there -, the Cini Foundation, a humanist institution born after the war and dedicated to the arts and culture, has resumed its courses this year.High Culture (of “high culture”) which were, between 1959 and 2002, a meeting place for European intellectuals, like the conferences of Cerisy, in France, or the International meetings of Geneva, in Switzerland.
For this rebirth, the theme “Living the distance” has been judiciously chosen, at a time of confinements, imposed distances and the dizzying development of virtual exchanges. Most aptly, he found in San Giorgio Maggiore a sensitive illustration: the island gives physically to feel what could be a “right distance”, being both very close to the heart of Venice and totally preserved from the tourist bustle. This resumed, although at a lower intensity than before the pandemic and without the passage of ferries, banned for a fortnight in the Giudecca canal.
“The idea for this theme comes from the discomfort born of confinements, but we also wanted to show that the question of distance has preoccupied all civilizations and that there is a positive side of distance”, explains Carlo Ossola, professor emeritus of literature at the College de France and director of this course, of which he has directed eighteen editions in the past. “Here, we like to work on themes that touch the contemporary world but without following fashion, he continues. We also seek to go beyond the present attitude which leads to breaking up a complex subject into several pieces without unity. Our idea is rather to converge, from several points of view, towards a possible center. “
During the conference, the architect Mario Botta raised the question of distance in sacred architecture; the physicist Gabriele Veneziano came to speak about the origins of the world and the phenomena preceding the big bang; the writer Alberto Manguel has shown, based on Dante’s rereadings in America, how literature allows distances to be recomposed.
The jurist Alain Supiot, for his part, returned to Persian letters de Montesquieu, whose first edition (1721) this year celebrates its 300e birthday, to evoke his own way “To take a distant look at one’s own culture, to get to know one another by stepping aside”. “Montesquieu is not in a universalism of overhang, which crushes diversity, as in the current globalization, analyzed the lawyer. It offers a crucible universalism, where the diversity of cultures is not an obstacle to be overcome. “
Carlo Ossola, for his part, sought to capture the contemporary concern linked to the question of distance. “In our human space, it is the consciousness of the home that creates and measures distance. And our societies, to reduce worry, do not know whether to abolish distances (as in web space), or dismantlethe home, the precious and intangible domestic space that defines our intimacy ”, he analyzed. He invited to reflect on the distance and the lack, criticizing the “Theory of needs” which developed from the 1960s. “The theory of needs has imposed as a parameter” the measure of what we lack “, while a fruitful distance would be that which separates us from our needs. A “largesse” finally capable of leading us “offshore” ”, he wisely pleaded.
On the sidelines of the lectures, the researchers discussed a lot about the ideological constraints and the managerial imperatives which weigh today on universities and the increasing difficulty of exerting critical distance there. “What is important today is to reconstitute thinking centers, spaces of freedom, depth and interdisciplinarity”, emphasized Carlo Ossola. The Cini Foundation precisely aims to offer this type of oasis.