Rediscovering Italian intellectuals: the new edition of the "Military Speeches" by Giovanni Boine. An interview with Chiara Catapano and Claudio Di Scalzo

Chiara Catapano, Claudio Di Scalzo and Andrea Aveto are the curators of an important forthcoming editorial project, namely the new edition of the "Military Speeches" (Discorsi militari, 1914) by the Italian writer and critic Giovanni Boine (1887 - 1917), probably the most neglected yet fundamental intellectual of the World War I period. We're pleased to offer you the following interview accompanied by the paintings of Stefano Parolari. 
Q: Could you briefly describe the book to the international audience of this World War I web site? 
A: The book offers, a hundred years after its release for the "Notebooks of the Voice" (“Quaderni della Voce”, a collection commissioned by Giuseppe Prezzolini with the publications of the literary journal "The Voice") the “Military Speeches” (Discorsi militari) of Giovanni Boine and some of its articles, really hard to find, which have appeared on some important national newspapers during the war years.
The “Military Speeches” are a kind of manual which intends to explain to every soldier concepts like homeland, honor, peace... and wants to be a compendium of the recent Italian history. It hasn’t be written for intellectuals, but for people who have just ended their elementary studies and it has been read by thousands of young people at the front. 

Q: Could you explain the original idea of this edition? Where does it come from? There are three curators: how did you cooperate? 
A: The idea came up to me and Claudio Di Scalzo studying the rich correspondence of the author, Giovanni Boine. We wanted to propose this study to the readers of our online magazine The Flying Dutchman ( We thought to create an anthology of some crucial literary passages to understand the cultural climate in Italy at the outbreak of the First World War. His correspondence (a wide work which has absorbed us for some years) has unveiled a refined wit, an argumentative mood with no compromise for anyone (the controversy with Benedetto Croce - David against Goliath - is perhaps the most evident example). Boine, like a lot of people at the time, was affected by tuberculosis: his premature death (he was 29) has allowed the dominant cultural groups to lead his opera to an equal premature oblivion. We don’t have to forget that after the II World War (the correspondence of the author was made available only from the 70s) the literary Critic wanted to interpret his work as fundamentally conservative, if not reactionary.
Nowadays we know that this schematically ideological "reading"is no longer sustainable.
Claudio Magris has written an incisive article in 2008 ("Why we must rediscover Boine," Corriere della sera, July 14, 2008), which invites us to read Boine.
The literary critic Carlo Bo who swept Giovanni Boine aside, in the years of his youth, in 2000, rediscovered the writer through his correspondence, and he formally apologized, admitting the mistake of reading it without grasping his genius.
Andrea Aveto has participated at the edition with a preface. He has intervened when the work was already at a good point but he gave us the occasion to learn more about Boine. He is one of the principal experts of the Ligurian author and he owns a correspondence with unpublished letters which have been recently discovered. It was natural to ask him to participate, and he gave a massive contribute for a different point of view on the re-presentation of "Military Speeches", something which no one had written yet and which enforced the luck of the text.

Q: What are the main points of intersection between the Italian writer and the First World War? 
A: The major point of interest, in our opinion, is the lucidity of Boine’s interpretation, of the historical events of his time and his surprising ability to predict the development of the future. When Italy had entered into the war, it ended up broken in two: neutralist and interventionists. There were movements such as Futurism of Marinetti, who supported the war as a "purification of the people"; and those who were against the "imperialist" massacre. The Boine’s point of view remains unique in the intellectual panorama of the time: he does not deny the past, as the futurists and the “vociani”, on the wave of a New Age and, at the same time, he doesn’t refer to the Tradition as a new religion to hold on to. He tries to solve within his conscience the node which dramatically involve a man in his historic contest and which, at his time, was supported by mass movements and ideologies. There are no "isms" that could mend the gap: he clearly states that each program will end in an ideology. The “Military Speeches” that we propose, as well as articles such as "Three Jews", which refers the thorny topic of Judaism are texts for which Boine has been crucified by some revisionist critics, but they were designed to open up the awareness of the complexity, even today, the theme.

Q: What did you discover while curating this new edition of the "Discorsi militari" ("Military Speeches")? What's new in your interpretation? 
A: The "Military Speeches" have to see the light after exactly a hundred years of their first release. This work has been too hastily judged by critics of the "left side" of the second middle of the '900 as propaganda and It has been misunderstood as justificatory thesis of the interventionism.
The truth is that this work shows its intents from the very beginning. It is an attempt to understand, to place this inevitable moment in the order of history. Boine tells us that from the reading of his book we might come out with new questions of a spiritual nature. It seems to suggest that the military life is also a form of freedom (the freedom to do our own duty); but between the lines Boine emphasizes the opposite: that the “civil” life has, without any doubt, no freedom as well. It is an illusion. So here is a “writer” who does not provide justification to anything, as they wanted us to believe. On the contrary, we see a man who thinks that before these events for which we can’t find a justification, it doesn’t exist a way to analyze them beyond any ideology and to place them in the world. Boine condemns this war in the letters to his friends and to the intellectuals who supported the interventionism. The “Military Speeches” is a manual that was distributed to the young people who were leaving to the front. There are summarized concepts like the homeland, the nation and the duty of a soldier. They are written in a language very different from what was his typical style. Here the language is intended for people who have received an education, but who are not writers.

Q: Let's go outside of Italy. Do they know Giovanni Boine? Why do you think we should encourage a wider and deeper knowledge of his work (with particular regards to the "Discorsi militari" ("Military Speeches")? 
A: Here in Italy Giovanni Boine is not really famous and rarely published. Often… If he is known he is, at the same time, misunderstood. Only few people have read his work, and what is know is what has been filtered by the critics who have made indigestible and contaminated his thought. Claudio Magris suggests that he remains a complex author, difficult to be read; the effort of the readers lays in leaving their prejudices, and in creating their own opinions. I do not think he is really well known abroad except for some University debate. Basically he is still unknown to the big audience. But I do believe that it is exactly in Europe that he could have his most fervent admirers, based on the fact that his thought is dip in the Mitteleurope philosophical musical and literary world. He studied Unamuno and Claudel; he attended lessons of Bergson and studied the best French literary tradition in Paris. He is interested even in Marx, whose works he wanted to read in German, because he wasn’t persuaded by other translations.

Q: Anything to add? (Even beside this book but keeping the focus on World War One and your studies and researches related to the war.) Thank you.
A: It would be necessary that all the work of Giovanni Boine, which is not a homogeneous collection yet, was rediscovered and translated for an international audience. For sure the author would find a big audience outside our borders. He was a spirit fell into the highest European literary and philosophical tradition; Italy, fragmented into a thousand provincialisms, cities, has not been able to understand him at that time. Today we would be ready to re-read him with a new spirit. Boine lived during the war and died a few months before its conclusion: his “eye which all-sees”, draws us into this world in an original way, creating new problems which we are not used to thinking about. He asks us to not be satisfied with the easy solutions that come from outside, but to become ourselves a sort of filter for the history. He asks us a greater effort with no promises of success. At the end of the day he lost: he died before reaching the destination. But it is precisely this effort, giving up everything which didn’t become evident in our conscious mind, that can the road to freedom. I would suggest to start to re-discover Boine from his letters, and then go deeper into his work: articles, studied philosophy, literature fragment which he interpreted in a very personal way. Boine is one of the best minds and spirits of our tradition, and it is time that we recognize it with honesty. 
Then I have to mention that the illustrations dedicated to the writer into the book, is a re-invention of painting which have been originated from real photographs by Stefano Parolari. 

Answers: Chiara Catapano and Claudio Di Scalzo
Paintings: Stefano Parolari
Translation of the answers: Martina Bradaschia