Letters to the Heretics

Third Letter

Dear Adele,[1]

I will begin with a beneficial self-critique. I must in fact recognize that several years ago, when the feminist movement showed its first signs of life, few were the politicians who understood the meaning of the phenomenon and divined the importance that it would soon take on, and I was among the last ones to grasp the excellence of your struggle. It seemed to me that history was once again clashing with one of the tiresome changes of course that delay it, provisionally divert it towards secondary objectives that are, at that moment, perceived as primary. To my eyes, the character of your appeals were not at all opposed to, indeed, were in conformity with the exigencies of capitalist development, and your attitude did not seem to differ from the proverbial imbecile who breaks down a door that, in fact, is already open.

But time and the evolution of your conduct have made me revise my opinion, and the reservations that I had concerning the identity and insignificance of your claims finally dissipated and those claims, having today reached maturity, powerfully impose themselves as an absolute pretention to offer the people a project for a positive life, one qualitatively different from the one lived until now. Similar in this to the fourth estate, which, being nothing, nourished the ambition to be everything, you feminists present yourselves on the stage of history with a project that embraces all of the aspects of life, nevertheless rejecting – here you distinguish yourselves from the fourth estate and reveal your imposing modernity – all of the traditional forms of domination and political participation. But I need to interrupt this praise, because flattery harms the one who gives it as much as the one who receives it, and I do not want unlimited praise to divert you from the immense task that you have set yourself.

Instead, I will stop and begin to discuss your project, although it is difficult for me to reduce it to a single proposition, because it disperses itself into an infinity of watchwords, appeals and requirements.

Perhaps the best slogan[2] that describes the positivity that you propose is the famous phrase Woman, the beautiful,[3] which evokes your refusal to continue to see the feminine condition as cursed by God and scorned by men, and which is a slogan[4] that, on first sight, is absolutely insane – something shared by all slogans[5] – but marks, if one reflects on it for a bit, your desire for positivity, a kind of starvation of self-realization, a distinctive trait of the classes and individuals who have never realized anything. And you, the last to appear on the stage of history, you have affirmed your project of feminine life with a pride that is completely exaggerated. That is your ideal strength, the only one today capable of bringing aid to the established order, which, as one knows, changes to always remain the same.

How could we ever dare to imagine – we, the politicians in an epoch that has finished with politics – the stupefying appearance of a workers’ advocate (it hardly matters if he were to be part of the rank and file or the leadership) who would be audacious enough to proclaim “The worker, he is beautiful” or, if you prefer, a sociologist who would scorn danger to the point of defending the enviable character of the conditions in which a young person or a student lives? It was a long time ago that we regretfully had to retire similar fantasies: some of us due to cowardice and others due to a sense of modesty. And we had already been used to living day by day, somehow patching together the tears in the social fabric, when you arrived, bearing a conception of feminine life that, after a few retouches, was applicable to the stronger sex as well, to fill the frightening emptiness of the values that had meanwhile grown hollow. Heeding the SOS sent out by capitalist society with a sense of opportunity and a zeal with which history is stingy (if these historical and sociological remarks interest you, I can mention, by way of comparison, the support offered to the established order for the last century by the intellectuals of all stripes), you built your grandiose ideal at the precise moment that all political positivity had failed and you replaced it with a positivity of everyday life (an “existentialist” positivity, one would have said five years ago) that is placed upon much more solid ground in that it is attached to every domain of human activity, including the most secret ones.

Moreover, your slogan[6] does not speak of what is beautiful in the feminine condition. But, though it is vague, your slogan[7] isn’t at all equivocal; in fact, it does not even claim to speak of the feminine condition such as it has been lived until now, nor as it would be lived in a future and revolutionized future. On the contrary, it glorifies femininity as it is manifested here and now,[8] provided that women work and struggle within the feminist movement, in solidarity with its comrades, not as isolated monads, but as part of a whole. Similar to the lascivious clothes that emphasize the shape of a beautiful woman’s body and yet abstain from exhibiting it openly, the stupefying effectiveness of your formula, which is worthy of a political propagandist of the highest order, resides precisely in the fact that it reveals and does not reveal, leaving one to suppose an unknown paradise of delights.

Nevertheless, if one examines in detail the daily activity of an average feminist, one in truth sees empty hands: domestic war over household[9] duties for the conservatives; lesbian practices for the extremists; and activism at consultation centers and “self-awareness” sessions (“self-awareness”[10] being an improper term that would make poor Hegel turn in his grave) for the moderates. My analysis certainly isn’t exhaustive, but, to be sincere, I have left aside a few things. Namely: behind “Woman, the beautiful” there is in fact not enough of substance to justify a slogan.[11] This is certainly a secret, but it is a clown’s secret, a public secret.

Today, despite a catalogue of such impoverished lived moments, you have successfully founded nothing less than a well-followed protest movement, one capable, due to its conception of life, of penetrating into many sectors of society: this is what leaves us – the traditional politicians – open-mouthed, sincerely stupefied by the extent of the results that you have been able to obtain with such limited means!

But if at first glance your success seems inexplicable, a less hasty reflection allows one to understand the reasons for your rise and our (the other politicians’) simultaneous fall. The fact is that politicians, the Marxist ones especially, have always operated with the conviction – history will determine if that conviction was well-founded or erroneous and, for my part, I hope its verdict comes as soon as possible – that the proletariat was, due to its historic destiny, “the inheritor of classic German philosophy,” and thus those politicians always treated it with the intellectual and moral respect that its legacy conferred upon it. But you, endowed with a much more developed practical sense, have understood very well that the little people bring with them a much more miserable heritage, that of the Roman pigs with their filth and manifest immorality and, basing yourselves on such insights, you have taken them where we politicians have failed [to dare].

Even more radically than we did, you have abandoned all illusions about the intellectual level and sensibility of the most humble classes – the very ones that a democratic regime must flatter and hold in respect –, and you have recognized the representations of the people for what they are: an abyss of baseness and triviality. As a result, you have been perfectly accurate in your intuition when you composed your program with the slices of life[12] of a very advanced naturalism, certainly more appetizing for crude palates than a Hegelian turn of phrase or Ricardo’s economic analysis. Also the preferred themes of your program are extracted from the everyday lives of the people, with an obvious predilection for the most spicy cases and the most degrading vicissitudes: abortion, badly practiced sexuality, domestic warfare, lesbianism, bastard children, feminine prattle: these are the sad affairs with which you entertain the people, who are, as always, morbidly attentive to those who speak to them of their tribulations and vices.

Nevertheless, unlike theatrical forms such as the mime of the Romans and the Commedia dell’arte, which crudely ridiculed human baseness, you are serious, and you want to be taken seriously. What had been hardly rebellious, previously relegated to the shadowy zones of the social territory, and indifferent to the imperatives of religion, the State and the economy; that which is currently designated by the expression “private life,” only escapes from its banality at moments of noisy coarseness or open immorality, or sometimes flees from it into artistic activity or concrete activity: your program of action has neutralized or sterilized it by transforming it into the subject for austere cultural debates or political meetings.[13] All the human attributes that have fallen into your claws (and very few have escaped) – whether they are lascivious, spicy, obscene or sensual – have become abstractions worthy of figuring in treatises or essays, but surely not desirable from the point of view of concrete sensibilities.

I am certainly not someone who would support the idea that sensual impulses should lose their attraction once they have emerged from the taboos that surround them. But – come on! – there is a way of speaking of them. It is one thing to hold forth on love in a course on sexual hygiene, and quite another to speak of love in the bedroom. But thanks to you, we have finally come to the point that one speaks of it everywhere as one would speak of it at a center for prenuptial consultation or in a treatise on psychotherapy.

To prove what I have advanced, I will provide an example from my personal life. During the evening, free from political obligations, when I can dedicate several hours to study or reflection, I often see my oldest daughter return home, and I am in the habit of speaking to her for a while when she does. Sometimes she appears with rouge on her cheeks and her hair disheveled. In such cases, I ask her with gentle insistence, which is justified by the trust that we share, how she spent the evening, and the dear child inevitably responds to me, “I went to X’s place and I had good sexual relations.” These are her affairs, I don’t discuss them, but, finally, this is truly not a response likely to provoke a surge of complicity in a father as open and democratic as I flatter myself to be. But what I fear above all is that she refers to her “relations” not only with me, but also with the people of her age, her comrades and, it is incredible to say so,[14] even with her partner.[15]

Thanks to the work of the feminists – but I must recognize that the student protest movement had already shown the way – life (of which one is still permitted to speak) can only be depicted in the style of an essay. In the description of human interactions, sterilized abstraction has taken hold of disgusting reality, transforming materiality into ideality, and vulgarity into nobility. Just as one once passed from scholarly language to common speech, today we witness the transformation of the common into the abstract. This is a perfect example of current degeneration because, as Seneca says, wherever you find a corrupt literary style in favor, you can be certain that morals have also deviated from the right path.[16] One speaks of everything as if one were writing an essay, and the events of life no longer come from the linguistic paths that describe them, but turn towards the abstract. That this phenomenon cannot be reduced to the simple intellectual conformism of the Left, which feeds upon common expressions, as several writers for l’Espresso have claimed, appears obvious provided one wants to consider the fact that there are no more “sex fiends” but only “liberated managers of their own bodies,” no more “debauchees” but brave people who “make their own experiments,” no more “wet cunts and stiff cocks” but “good sexual relations.” Whether this is flesh becoming mummified or thought completely drained of blood that becomes the gravedigger for living flesh, I don’t know. What is certain, on the other hand, is that you feminists, despite your proclaimed sensuality, have made a precious and irreplaceable contribution to the process of generalized burial. It will be easy for you to object that my argument leads straight to the obscenities of the whorehouses and the barracks, but it does nothing of the sort.

Despite appearances, what I desire is something else: that the linguistic codes that you have developed with such great skill become our collective heritage [patrimoine général] and that the oases in which speech still flows, fluidly and sensually, are finally dried out. That everyone speaks abstractly; that everyone always chooses the most affected expression; that we reform the dictionary by crossing out the most sensual and evocative words; that everyone expresses himself like an essayist, whether they are at a bar, at urinal or in the bedroom. Who will feel lust after knowing that the object of his concupiscence is “sexual relations”? Who will feel the desire to seek adventure after knowing that his actions will be placed under the rubric of “making his own experiments”? Who will take great pleasure in reporting his own affairs and those of other people if doing so is “expressing himself”? Nietzsche would say that interiority “has learned how to leap, to dance, to put on makeup, to express itself and gradually lose itself in abstraction and calculation!”[17] Have patience! But the social situation that will result from this will be orderly, and words, rendered inoffensive, will forever cease to constitute an element of subversion in the mouths of unconscious people, who will always be ready to put their hands up but never use them to recognize acceptance [by the others].

The times of crudeness and disorder in the definition of things must come to an end. An old brocade expresses the essence of marriage in this way: “To drink, eat and sleep together is marriage, it seems to me.”[18]

This is a brutal and reductive conception that, today, would horrify any progressive: to drink, eat and sleep together seem to be trifles in the eyes of our contemporaries, and they certainly do not resemble conjugal relations. But the rustic who imagined this pithy formula was not deprived of grandeur: in the terms that were the closest to him and that best expressed his crude appetites, he described the limited but consistent reality that he knew; he knew what he wanted and he said it, and his context, as one says, perhaps didn’t allow him to want anything else. In sum, he was a sexist pig and he couldn’t deny it.

If a modern-day man dared to enunciate such an aphorism at one of your assemblies, you would certainly make his life difficult and, in the mildest of circumstances, you would accuse him of desiring, not a woman, but an object, a woman-object, as is now the custom to say. And he would indeed merit such a fate, because his triviality would infect the purity of the interpersonal relations that you are trying to instaurate. The obscenity of his thinking could only result in lubricious acts, thus disturbing the antiseptic cohabitation of the members of society. At the very least, one would have to reeducate him through repeated psychotherapeutic sessions.

To me it seems beyond question that, in a Socialist society, the fundamental norm would basically be reduced to an absolute respect for the personality of the others, as you intend that one should have for women, who have been the victims of irreverent attention until now. Paradoxically, one could say that Socialism would place each person under a glass enclosure, in absolute sensory isolation: this would be the most radical means to obtain mutual respect. Molestation during moments of shared thrills and compliments in bad taste would finally be vanquished. The planet would be transformed into a living museum, museums being the places where everything is respected in the extreme: sanctuaries in which one can look but not touch. Each man, freed from the ancient incrustations that cover him, would be presentable in public. This is the direction of the intellectual and moral reeducation towards which you fight. But a museum of identical pieces certainly would not seduce the observer, who above all desires a rapid succession of [different] images. Thus, would it not be necessary to demand that each individual renounce his own difference, his own uniqueness,[19] his particular specificity? But have no fear: you would be able to tranquilly cultivate your “feminine specificity.” What will count will be the fact that this great blossoming of difference will remain without use of any kind, other than being contemplated.

A great novelist who you surely do not like, and who I will abstain from naming, decreed that “there are two great types of girlfriends: those who have ‘big ideas’ and those who have received ‘a good Catholic education.’ Two fashions that the pitiful have of feeling superior; two fashions of arousing the anxious and the unsatisfied.”[20] Divested of its misogynist character, this observation appears penetrating to me, and in fact I have encountered combative women (the feminists) and resigned women (all the others). As for the fact that such a division of roles might excite the demands of the anxious,[21] allow me to indicate my disagreement. On the contrary, it discourages those who are anxious because the imprudent ones who risk making propositions that are not completely irreproachable know a priori the fashions in which their appetites will be satisfied, and there no longer remains anything to glorify after the meal.[22]

On the other hand, a futurist of the second rank[23] makes the following classification: “Women can be divided into a single category: the beautiful ones. Men can be divided into three: the rich ones, the poor ones, and the ugly women.” It’s a slightly cynical remark, but not deprived of corrosive power. Its author could not anticipate what would follow, alas, namely that the only feminine category that merits this description [“beautiful”] sees its ranks melted away in the blink of an eye, and this despite progress in the field of cosmetics, which have become articles of popular consumption. But as one knows, the only miraculous makeup is luxury, whose days have ended. Luxury is in fact nourished by freedom of thought and freedom of speech, which have been pushed to become licentiousness in actions. And where today can one find licentiousness in thought and actions? Thanks to their problematization by you and your sympathizers, everything is designated by extremely harmless abstractions. Everything is encaged in the abstraction that corresponds to it, and those cages hide the practical truths that those things contain. The strength of abstraction resides precisely in the magnificent aptitude that it has to hide and isolate the truth.

You feminists, you have contributed the most to this social concealment of practical truth, especially in the framework of what one calls everyday life, thus finishing the job of the falsification of human needs that the political order had hardly undertaken.

Perhaps because you have been too mistreated by a reality that has oppressed you for centuries, you have preferred to leave it behind by choosing the route of abstract truth, separated from all use.

Two centuries ago, Casanova affirmed that “the truth keeps itself hidden in the depths of a well, but when the whim comes to it to show itself, everyone, amazed, fixes their eyes on it, because the truth is completely nude, a woman and very beautiful.”[24] But he was wrong. He could not know that the feminist movement would distinguish itself through its concealment of the truth, the only one that dispenses its favors: practical truth.

Comrades, to work! This project has hardly begun, and there remains so much to do where the intellectual and moral reeducation of the masses (men in particular) is concerned. It is well known that in certain milieus they still speak of the “ass” and, what is worse, with sensual enjoyment, sometimes actually combining this word with the act of “pinching.” Furthermore, it is common to calumny feminine masturbation by describing it with the disgusting term “fingering.” During a tedious parliamentary session, I had to scold a very young colleague who, to show his appreciation for the qualities (certainly not intellectual) of a new deputy, used the expression “pretty cunt.” One could multiply such examples. It is your duty to identify and stigmatize the sleazy things that hide in every discourse, in every word, by having recourse, when applicable, to experts in complaisant semantics. In fact, either you will manage to complete the sterilization of language or you will disappear as a movement and be reabsorbed by the system of masculine values.

I do not think that you will encounter obstacles where men are concerned. On the contrary, I fear there will be resistance from certain women. I am not worried by the traditionalists, because I am convinced that, with patience, you will succeed in rallying them to your cause. On the contrary, there is a very special category of women that is impossible to fit into the feminist-traditionalist binomial, a category that is difficult to delimit, but of which it will be worth the effort to create an identikit so that you can size up the danger to be confronted. When I was a child, one said that a little girl with particularly lively manners was a “tomboy,” an expression that today has fallen into disuse and for good reason. One could perhaps coin the phrase “bad girl” to describe who I have in mind. This would be – I fear that several specimens are already in circulation – a woman who is insufficiently domesticated by culture and education; not at all inclined to recognize herself in a given cause, not even the cause of her own gender, due to her awareness of the absolute indifference of genital attributes; prone to fantasy and easy whims; lazy; incapable of distinguishing her desires from those of another, and this naïve; unable to distinguish subjectivity from objectivity, or the serious from the facetious; a sensualist by taste and not by dogma; and, finally – that which is essential – perfectly happy to sit down in a vulgar manner on a stool in a piano bar.[25]

The behaviors that I have described by way of an example, incontestable salt of life, are very rarely encountered these days and almost never concentrated in just one woman. Do not accuse me, my dear, of sketching out a feminine image for my personal use, one based upon my frustrated desires. The model that I describe is, on the contrary, one that I have no desire to see become widespread, because its appearance would coincide with the ruin of the civil order. Could we still call “society” a place[26] in which women, instead of demanding abortion on demand and other twaddle of the same sort, insist on brazenly engaging in (not on paper but in the flesh) such small spicy adventures as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – an adventure that has already been exploited by alternative pornography – and others of the same style? And if the women take up such dissolute behavior, what will come of the men? I will confess to you that I have in mind my personal case and that of so many other comrades. How will we continue to claim our portion of wet cunt if the women, due to pure vice, fantasize about being ravished by Saracens or treat themselves to good times in Toyland or other, similar whims? That would be the end of the democratic sheep, who have until now been pulled along by tantalizing them with the masochistic consumption of overcooked food and tedious feminine demands. We have never demanded that those poor devils – who are pathetic and ridiculous at the same time, the new faces of the Commedia dell’arte, if not laisser faire[27] capitalism – support or tolerate women who take action; we have kept these sheep as ornaments. This is the modest price they have had to pay in exchange for a place at the bosom of feminine benevolence. We have [only] pushed them to act as supporters[28] of causes that have left them cold, causes for which they have been warned to not show excessive zeal, which could offend the women themselves and their actions. It is good that these outcasts rot in the broth in which you have cooked them and for which they themselves have furnished the ingredients: what is at stake is the orderly development of society.

It would be unfortunate if, one fateful day, the women demanded of these men, as the price for the amenities they offer, not patience, but action, and did so not in the framework of economic profit – as certain amiable whores demanded in the past – but, on the contrary, in the particular sphere that some have called “the realization of art”!

But if you continue to work in the way that you have, we will finally attain a completely inert society, from which all trouble and adventure have been banished. Perhaps the charms of life will suffer, but the domestication of the human species will profit, and it is that domestication, and not life’s charms, that constitute the goal of political activity, whether it is traditional or feminist.

[1] Publisher’s note: Adele Faccio, who received a degree in Roman philology from the University of Genoa, participated in the Resistance in Liguria. In 1973, she founded the Center for Information About Sterilization and Abortion, of which she is the president. Among other institutional objectives, she aims for the irreversible sterilization of speech. It is precisely due to this task that Berlinguer addressed himself to her.

[2] English in original.

[3] Donna, è bello is the title of a film directed by Sergio Bazzini and released in 1974.

[4] English in original.

[5] English in original.

[6] English in original.

[7] English in original.

[8] Latin in original.

[9] French in original.

[10] autocoscienza.

[11] English in original.

[12] French in original.

[13] English in original.

[14] Latin in original.

[15] English in original.

[16] Epistles, 114. Latin in original.

[17] Untimely Meditations. German in original.

[18] Antoine Loysel (1536-1617). French in original. It is worth noting that this quotation concludes with the phrase, “But the Church must agree.”

[19] Latin in original.

[20] Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961), Voyage au bout de la nuit. French in original.

[21] French in original.

[22] Latin in original.

[23] Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti (1876-1944).

[24] Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), Histoire de ma Fuite des Prisons de la République de Venise qu’on appelle les Plombs. French in original.

[25] English in original.

[26] Greek in original.

[27] French in original.

[28] English in original.

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