Monday, November 24, 2008

La Taranta (pt. 3)

Ernesto De Martino's fascinating 1961 ethnography of Apulian Tarantism, 'The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism' is strongly influenced by the idealist humanism of Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce.

Because of its optimist, positivist, rational, humanitarian, decent nature, one can read De Martino's ethnography in the way proposed by Roland Barthes in 'The Pleasure of Text': "The more decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to blacken it, the easier it is to read it against the grain".

Reading of De Martino's ethnography against the grain is certainly easy- one can destabilize the book's idealism when it is creatively misread in a way informed by Lovecraftian paranoia and the Cthulhu mythos!

Just consider the following quotations from the chapter on the medieval origins of Tarantism:

"First of all, there is the problem of the phenomenon's origins, the period and historical climate in which tarantism came into being, with its own forms, on the ruins of the orgiastic cults and the mystery religions. In this regard, it is impossible for us to trace any useful indication of the symbolism of the taranta in the Phisiologus and medieval bestiaries, or in the prayers, spells and recipes collected by Pradel in Griechische und Süditalienische Gebete, Beschwörungen und Rezepte des Mittelalters. The same must be said for Arab writers. (...) Furthermore, in the De Venenis by Cristoforo Degli Onesti, a Florentine who taught medicine in Padua from 1379 to 1386, there is a chapter which treats De morsu tarantulae. Although this chapter appears in the index of the manuscript preserved in the National Library of Paris, [it] is missing from the text (...)".

Why is the chapter on the bite of the tarantula missing from De Venenis? Did De Martino check all Arab writers - or did he omit to mention that he found some blasphemous indications in the work of the mad one? Why did the authorities really close up the miraculous well at St. Paul's Chapel in Corso Garibaldi in Galatina in July 1959, the well to which those afflicted by Tarantism flocked every year? Doesn't the fact that Tarantism only runs in certain family point towards an Innsmouth-like atavism? And what about the 'Sanpoalari' - Southern Italian snake charmers and traveling healers? To which secrets are they privy? And why doesn't the spider which is held responsible for tarantism correspond to any arachnid of modern zoology? Is there any connection between tarantism and the spider-god Atlach-Nacha? Does the yearly cycle of Tarantism in any way correspond to the astronomical cycle of the planet Cykranosh (or Saturn, as we know it today), the planet from which this demonic deity is said to come? Do the caverns deep beneath Mount Voormithadreth, where the god resides, lead to the Apulian Monte Gargano, or even further south? What about the giant, bloated purple spiders of Leng, which are thought to be the children and servitors of Atlach-Nacha? Wasn't Tarantism mentioned in Unaussprechlichen Kulten by Von Junzt? Or was it Ludwig Prinn's De Vermis Mysteriis?

Post scriptum

Only after writing this post, I read the passages in Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia on Hidden Writing.

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