Paesologia has been adopted as a word-image to define a discourse on the role of small villages (paesi) in relation with human codification of communal spaces and idea of being present. It denotes one of the most compelling features of contemporary Italian ecopoetics and ecoaffect narratology trends and is particularly associated with issues of depopulation and devaluing of small ghost towns that have affected several areas across the peninsula in recent urban migration (both inside and outside Italy). The expression was coined by Southern Italian poet, journalist, filmmaker and environmental activist Franco Arminio, to describe both an affect-oriented approach to reestablish an ethics of villages and an emphasis on our sensorial understanding of their realities as storyworld of rituals, signals, and value-making (as well as myth-making, a re-sacralization of the human). The nature of this field of study lies at the crossroads of many diverse disciplines combining ethnography, geopolitical discourses, eco-poetry, spatial turn, and cli-fiction towards a broader ecological reconfiguration of socio-cultural practices and oral traditions.
Paesologia is also born out of a necessity as a modality to rewrite what we are and what we do in our places when, for example, they became inhabited or devalued, from which many had left due to human-caused or natural disasters, whether flooding or earthquakes (especially the Irpinia disaster in the early 1980s with a dramatic human death toll, inadequate construction of buildings, and lack of investment on hydrogeologic instability that shook the public and prompted the birth of a National Civic Protection organization). Arminio’s work, among many recent ones, aims at decentering our human presence, the social, the political and the environmental fabric of a land and promoting the need to walk more conscientiously within such lands through new eyes. To a certain extent, similarly to a flâneur, a placeologist is someone who records the phenomenological re-appraisal of a less wanted place, paying attention to the least considered object, or a fountain, a square, a mural, or a gathering space in a silent ritual especially dedicated to a newfound sense of smallness (often correlated to rurality given that borghi or paesi are far from major city centers) and its slow-paced mechanism of life experience or what Arminio calls ‘small epiphanies’ to which a tourist hardly concedes either their gaze or body.
In his recent collection of stories, Geografia interna per un’Italia commossa (2013), and poems such as Terracarne (2011) or Resteranno i canti (2018), Arminio explores many of these nature-culture dynamics and strategies of value-making of spaces and their impact, as a storyworld, and what this may signify to our individual and collective perceptions of bodies-in-the-world. Moreover, these texts model a sense of ethical and sustainable tourism and localism centering the discourse on the act of observing, listening, tracking, walking, pausing, and experiencing a multilayered stratification of a place. Hence, the making of meditative and nature-immersed Festival of ecoreflective practices such as The Moon and Badlands. Paesi is also a complex, quite fruitful term on which Arminio projects the pharmakon of our gaze because it blends apparently different modes of living. The term may be used as a signifier for a small urban center, as a synonym of land, or represent the national border of a country; in doing so, it is not just a dialectic of what a place may seem, but it also entails a variety of social, political, and ethical demands through which one redefines their own historical and spatial collective presence.
Recodifying our experiences with such isolated and abandoned places and their long histories of ruins allow for a reappropriation of their resilient community. It is a sentiment that permeates many cli-fiction and nonfiction stories, ecocritical novels, and affective econarratology as well as cinematic plays and models dealing with the effect of natural and human-made disasters on landscapes or paesaggio, mutable and deeply rooted in social structures and transformation. In contrast with the long-lasting poetic appellative, yet cliché, word Belpaese [beautiful country or land], paesologia acts for a more heterogenous, transnational, experiential and affect-based mode of interpretation of the mutable expression of wonder and destruction between places and humans.
Arminio, Franco. Geografia commossa dell’Italia interna. Milan: Mondadori, 2013
Arminio, Franco. Terracarne. Milan: Mondadori, 2011
Arminio, Franco. Resteranno i canti. Milan: Mondadori, 2018
Arminio, Franco. “Places and Looking: Italy’s Silent Epiphanies.” In Italy and The Environmental Humanities: Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies, edited by Serenella Iovino, Enrico Cesaretti, and Elena Past, 110–16. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018, pp. 110-116
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Corona, Gabriella. A short Environmental History of Italy. Variety and Vulnerability. White Horse Press, 2017.
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