Sunday, November 22, 2009

Salvo Montalbano looks back at the 1960s

Excursion to Tindari, fifth of Andrea Camilleri's novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano (eleven of the books have been translated into English to date), contains an assertion of political maturity and independence surprising from a man of the left who has remained steadfastly so.

Montalbano is musing over the news that a friend from the heyday of European radicalism, has been named president of the second-most important bank in Sicily:
"What Montalbano remembered most from those days was a poem by Pasolini, defending the police against the students at Valle Giulia in Rome. All his friends had spat on those verses, whereas he, Montalbano, had tried to defend them. `But it's a beautiful poem.' If they hadn't restrained him, Carlo Martello would've broken his nose with one of his deadly punches. ... At any rate, over the years he'd seen his friends, the legendary comrades from 68, all turn `reasonable.' And by dint of reason, their abstract fury had softened and finally settled into concrete acquiescence."
In the U.S. confessions of radicals-turned-conservatives are an established sub-genre, I think. Less familiar are figures such as Montalbano (and Camilleri himself, perhaps) who can look back on the excesses of the 1960s, heap scorn on the perpetrators of those excesses, and remain a sardonic, committed man of the left.

Dominique Manotti's novels also cast a critical eye on the afterlife of 1960s activism. What other crime writers do this? What is their attitude toward those old days? Repentant? Scornful? Forgiving?

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Anonymous marco said...

I wonder if Montalbano found the poem beautiful even at the beginning of Rounding the Mark.
Anyway, the novels of Massimo Carlotto deal with the aftermath of 1970s activism. The protagonist of the Goodbye Kiss (not so much anti-hero as clear-cut villain) in particular, well exemplifies the opportunism of those who rode the wave of the contestation only to swifty change alliances when they realized where their best interests lay.
It is one of my favorites, but, my previously stated opinions notwithstanding, you may enjoy Poisonville more.

v-word: deadi

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a good question. The Montalbano of Rounding the Mark is enraged and depressed over police violence and plotting at the G8 mmetings in Genoa. I wonder what Camilleri would have to say on this matter. He does have Montalbano specify that the villains in Genoa were not beat cops, but high officials.

On the other hand, Stephen Sartarelli's notes to Excursion to Tindari say that Pasolini's poem criticizes the student protesters as a bunch of rich kids and calls the police "children of the poor." This may explain Montalbano's sympathy toward the poem.

Have you read Dominque Manotti?

November 24, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Surely there were precise responsabilities in high places, nevertheless a lot of common cops had their fun during the nighttime incursion at the Scuola Diaz.
I know Pasolini's poem. It resurfaces everytime there's a new "movement", student or otherwise. From a marxist point of view the real point should have been whether the occupation was right/appropriate or not, the use of what amount of force justified, and so on. Most armies and police forces around the world are made of "children of the poor" but this doesn't stop them from committing grave human right violations, and the concept of a class working against its own interests isn't exactly new. Regardless of political evaluations about that particular case, anyway, the record of the police forces hasn't been exactly sparkling in the last 40 years in Italy.
Just last month a 30 year old with no criminal record who had been arrested for possession of 20 grams of marijuana died in police custody of a heart attack, the kind that apparently comes with major bruises and concussions all over the body. And this is the rare case that reached public attention; two nearly identical ones in recent months aren't talked about, and families have been left alone in their fight to obtain justice.
So I suppose I have a beef with the fact that, given that so many dubious cases over the years end up in a puff of smoke , and even in a major case like Genoa sentences were extraordinarily mild (and only involved the "foot soldiers") the police gets away a bit too easily in many Italian crime novels, even if Camilleri DOES speak about these things in public.
That said, of course many "ex-sessantottini" have become exactly what they professed to hate. They populate the televisions, newspapers and general entourage of Berlusconi, and Camilleri is right to point that out.

Have you read Dominque Manotti?

No, I haven't. I keep waiting to find one of the Daquin novels, which have been published a few years ago, on some used book stall, because I think I would like the protagonist.

November 24, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Camilleri is harder on the police in Rounding the Mark than he is easy on them in Excursion to Tindari. And he's not exactly easy on them in Excursion ... One of the early chapters alludes to the case that Dario Fo wrote about in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and Stephen Sartarelli's notes explain the case further.

And I'll give Camilleri the benefit of the doubt, just as I do in the discussion of smoking in the post above this one. The reference to Pasolini's poem is an observation, not analysis. I'm not sure Montalbano or Camilleri would absolve foot soldiers and ordinary police of misdeeds.

On the evidence of the Montalbano novels, Camilleri is more a sardonic observer of power than a top-to-bottom social critic. One of my favorite passages is the paragraph from The Shape of Water that lays out Luparello's maneuvering to survive mani puliti. Scorn for the ruling class is more Camilleri's metier than is especial sympathy for the working classes, though he shows that, too.

I've read two of Dominique Manotti's novels, the ones translated into English as Lorraine Connection and Rough Trade. I think you'd like them. You'll have heard that Daquin is a highly competent cop, violent when he as to be, and not averse to using power to sexual ends. That he's gay is just one of the touches that makes Manotti's novels stand out.

November 24, 2009  

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