Massimo Mantellini, Dieci Splendidi Oggetti Morti [Ten Amazing Dead Objects], Einaudi, 2020
“When Herta Müller was being presented with the Nobel Prize for Literature at the Swedish Academy in 2009, she began and ended her speech … talking about her handkerchief. The one her mother never failed to tuck into her pocket when she left the house as a little girl.” A situation many of us can identify with, despite never having won a Nobel prize: a handkerchief as an example of a “forgotten” object that, even then, was not so much something to blow one’s nose on as a mark of a deep-rooted family association.
It’s but a short step from outdated objects to dead ones. Massimo Mantellini lists 10 that are worthy of note: geographical maps, landlines, pens, letters (to friends), cameras, newspapers, records, wires (as in cables), silence, and the sky.
(Every single one of us could put together a list based on our own experience: architects and designers would probably cite parallel lines, rapidograph pens, sketching paper, rolls of tracing paper and razor blades).
Some of the above categories hold particular meaning, like the Michelin road maps, the size of a sheet, perfectly folded on purchase but becoming increasingly limp with every consultation thereafter. Taboo objects for children (and women, as a rule of thumb), a demonstration of virility for the head of the family.
What about letters? What will replace those condensed missives of intimacy and secrets that have built up into an entire epistolary that over the years? An email that nobody will ever print out, no matter how intense? A text? Good for a clandestine erotic encounter, perhaps. No nail-biting wait for a reply that we hold close to our face in a bid to catch the tiniest waft of perfume before setting to with the letter opener.
Lastly, Mantellini cites silence and the sky, which I personally would put into the same category. They are certainly lost (the former as regards perpetual connection and the latter as regards light pollution), but hopefully not dead forever, in fact I believe that they will fuel our protest march – it is up to us to come to a decision about them.