A reflection on Michelangelo Antonioni's film "La Notte" (1961)
Dear Broch (21Oct01): We once talked about whether there was a reference to "The Sleepwalkers" in Fellini's film: La Dolce Vita. I watched the movie again and did not see any.
But there is a reference to "The Sleepwalkers" in Antonioni's film: La Notte. Marcello Mastroianni plays an intellectual writer. At a party in a rich industrialist's home, to which he has gone with his wife ("Millionaires collect intellectuals, and he has selected you."), Mastroianni wonders aloud, upon seeing the book lying next to a stairs, "Who here would read The Sleepwalkers?" It turns out the industrialist's world-weary daughter [Monica Vitti] is reading it. Mastroianni tries but fails to seduce her. At one point, she proposes to read a few pages of the book aloud with him.
Contrast the gracious, civilized communicative interaction, above, with the wretched parochiality of the social surround of today (2021), where there are people who ideate such things as that Barak Obama may not be OK because maybe he believes such things as: "all lives matter" → a social surround where it is a denigrated luxury to feel alienation or ennui → a social surround which has long since passed through Ronald Reagan's dismissal of "intellectual curiosity" as something that should not be paid for by tax dollars and Robert Venturi's celebration of decorating sheds as the telos of architecture. Here, Monica Vitti is reading Hermann Broch's secular novel "The Sleepwalkers", not studying The Holy Koran.
How low can we sink? To repeat the text of America's first commercial telegraph message (+1844.05.24):
What hath God wrought?
We are living through a Carrington event of the spirit.
A book Hermann Broch did not write
Here's the title: "Waste".
Here's the ending: There is a municipal law that propane tanks cannot be placed less than 12 feet from electrical appliances that could at leasst theoretically spark and cause an explosion, such as window air-conditioners.
Two Fuel Oil company delivery men come to replace a house's propane tank. Apparently propane tanks are supposed to be replaced every decade or so. The propane tank is under a window in the house's living room, with a big air-conditioner under the window, much less than 12 feet from the propane tank, obviously to cool the house in the hot summer. Either the tank was originally placed there illegally, or the air-conditioner was installed after the propane tank, or the local law concerning placement of propane tanks relative to window air-conditioners changed after both the propane tank and the air-conditioner were installed.
The delivery men observe the situation and inform the home owner that there is the 12 feet minimum distance required between the air-conditioner and the propane tank. The home owner looks around and does not see any plausible place to move the propane tank. One of the delivery men asks him: "That air conditioner is no longer in use, right?" The home owner replies: "Of course not." The men replace the propane tank in situ. Summer continues with the air conditioner cooling the house.
My reader! If you are protesting that propane tank delivery men and window air-conditioners are not fitting material for a great novel about 21st century world culture, do you think a couple medics retriveing a soldier left for dead on the battlefield on the bet of a couple packs of cigarettes is any more so? And his story in "The Sleepwalkers" had a message: People should not pontificate about what they do not know anything about from experience but have just read a few sentences in a book which for all they know may be poppycock, and they do not know what they are doing. Of course there are counter examples here, but how often does a philosopher or literary critic meet one? The lay persons who are not medically trained but read a few pages in a medical book and proceed to save some poor schmuck's life with a successful appendectomy, one of these even having been a notorious imposter. "Everything is grist for the mill." (Source unknown and various)