Thursday, July 25, 2013

Italian View on America and Death Penalty: Translation of Jovanotti's book "Il Grande Boh!"

Jovanotti flashing peace sign! Photo from
Wikimedia Commons.
As an American living in Italy, people (friends, family, travel clients, etc., especially Americans, of course) often ask me what Italian people think of America. It is a complicated question to answer because, just as the USA has many contradictions, so do Italians' feelings about the USA.

Generally speaking, Italians love America. i mean, they walk around with hard-ons for most things American. But then of course there are strong feelings against American political policies, especially on things like war, espionage and capital punishment.

Here, in a book by Lorenzo Cherubini, the Italian rock star and traveller who performs under the name Jovanotti, i have found one of the best representations of this mix of feelings. Much of his style and career celebrate Americana, both directly and indirectly. But in this section, titled "The Horror," of his 1998 book, "Il Grande Boh!" he talks about following one piece of Americana that disgusts him - the death penalty.

i could not find any English language-translation of this passage, or any other part of the book, on the internet. So i have taken the liberty of translating it for you, my dear English-speaking audience. None of the content is mine, it all belongs to Jovanotti, i have tried simply to bring it to light in English-language. Here it is:

" 'The Horror'  February 4, 1998.  
"Il Grande Boh!", book by Jovanotti.
As if New Year's, following the countdown of the TV that brings on midnight, at midnight exactly, in a prison in Texas, mythical land of cowboys and Indians, of cactus and desert, a woman will be executed by means of lethal injection. Live on TV the voice of a journalist over the phone, when midnight arrives and the face of the clock changes the date, tells us that the injection has happened and it sounds like he can see the needle that enters into the arm with the surgical sterility of a hospital procedure, everything clean, everything silent, like they want to give an air of civility to the most barbarous of actions. No, the machete is much better actually, stoning is better, decapitating with a hatchet is better, the amputated head rolling into a basket among screams of a ferocious piazza/people that this precision silences, much better to cut the body to pieces and feed them to the dogs, and to those that applaud the death penalty, or to them themselves, to them themselves is best. While through the needle the poison mixes with the blood of that woman, I was meditating on the horror, the horror that Kurtz spoke of at the end of Apocolypse Now, the horror that traces the continuous line of all human history and that reveals its most terrible face when it is accompanied by the law, the speeches of the powerful, the electoral campaigns, the blue suits and white shirts, the desks decorated with ironed flags that have never seen the wind. 
Reading "Il Grande Boh!," a fascinating book by Jovanotti
One thing is for sure, the death penalty is what renders man the most worthless of creation, I am ashamed of being human when these laws are applied in any part of the world, and in particular when they are applied in the United States I feel a great pain and I feel hatred towards rock, towards Fonzie, towards Coca-Cola, towards Robert de Niro, towards Mickey Mouse, towards Indiana Jones, towards Star Wars and all the American things I have in my veins. Even in my veins I have a bit of poison that tonight entered into the veins of that woman that was killed. I feel like vomiting, America is disgusting to me, with its fucking prairies and its empty skyscrapers, its cursed films and its bloody dollars, it's doll women and its eroticism without sensuality. Many countries have the death penalty but only the United States does it with such cruelty, with such complacency, with a sterilized needle that enters the body. And then the United States makes a big impression on us because, willingly or not, you grow up thinking that they are a model of organization to be imitated, with their beautiful and moving Declaration of Independence. There the death penalty is applied in a scientific manner, with the minimum possible pain. And that sterility, that absence of microbes that show the absolute horror of what is happening, as if canceling the context, as if death were isolated and its face rendered visible. It is the death that arrives with its scythe but a sterilized scythe that leaves no sign and leaves no drop of blood, it's a death without noise, without anger, without screaming, a death accompanied only by a signature on a sheet of paper, it is death elected to represent a nation, a whole nation that becomes homicide nation, that believes to be God and instead puts horror on the scene, and that discredits all humankind in front of the Universe."                (from pp. 104-105, Il Grande Boh!, by Jovanotti, ISBN 978-88-07-88036-0. Translated from the Italian by PaxRyan.)
This testimony of this artist, of this man, that even as an Italian he has America and American stuff in his blood, is powerful.  i think it is a fascinating point, all the more so made by a foreigner though still just as valid, that it is precisely the greatness and powerful influence of America that give it greater responsibility. And that when it fails in that responsibility by leading by depraved, backwards and/or inhumane example, we all suffer for it that much more.

i also agree with him that hiding barbarity in any way, whether it be by making it sterile or by not translating texts that criticize it, helps no one and hurts us all. i believe that with awareness we can fix any inhumanity - even the American death penalty.

1 comment:

  1. Perfect translation!Bravo for making it it and for posting it.


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