The dream of the stingy is to stash Life into a strongbox
Envy doesn’t target a cold empty breast,
but the warmest brimming one.
English Version by Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano;
[Il sogno dell’avaro; Massimo Recalcati. La Repubblica. 14 febbraio 2016.]
No human being can own the whole world. No living being can exhaust his entire existence. Nature without life prevents us from being “whole”. The violation of the nature of life drives the lust of the Stingy in his craving to want, to own, to keep, and to withhold everything for himself. He – the Stingy – wishes to give to human life a wholeness that is impossible. It’s not by chance that Saint Paul expounds avarice as the “root of all evils” (Tim 6:10).
Why? What is the limit, the taboo, the line over which the Stingy guiltily passes?
In a well-known parable of Jesus, a master grants some dinars to his servants before leaving for his journey; three dinars to the first, two dinars to the second, and one dinar to the third. He asks to use the dinars wisely until his return home. Once back home, the master asked the servants about the dinars. The first and the second show the pride of their financial yields, whereas the third cannot do anything else than giving back the one dinar he was given. Rather than risking to lose it, the third servant preferred to bury it underground.
The fear of losing his dinar has let the drive of preservation trump the risk of entrepreneurship and trade. It is just that which blows the master’s gasket. The servant had surrendered his talent to fear and buried it making it fruitless. There is not a greater sin. After all, are not fear and barrenness the core theme of the painting of the Miser?
The evangelical parable sheds light on the horribly unproductive nature of avarice. First and foremost it presents itself in the form of a bad undertaking, so as to quickly prevent any kind of loss, resulting in the opposite – the fearful servant, preventing his talent from blooming, loses everything. His anguish in the face of risk that accompanies, necessarily, any human undertaking speaks of cowardice – that kind of cowardice that shrinks, up to annihilation, the whole horizon of the world. In both his refusal to risk loss and the craving to own everything, the Stingy loses the very chance of subjective success.
His hands can hold only cold things – the stash of objects and dinars and his endless thirst of “having”, preventing him from any sort of pleasure that is deferred to an unreachable future.
In reality, the yearning of the Stingy goes beyond dinars, objects and “the stuff” – to say it with the word of Mastro Don Gesualdo of Giovanni Verga – the chief representative of verismo (1) – as his real aim is of a different kind, that is to avoid the untamable fleeting nature of life by putting life itself into a strongbox – as pictured by the famous Arpagone of Molière’s Miser.
The stealing of oats from his own horses, the extension of the fast days for his family and the arranged weddings of his sons drive his exclusive criterion of financial gain. These actions represent his preference for the beloved “strongbox” where he gathers his riches instead of his beloved Marianna. It unveils the dull but self-revealing gimmick that the Stingy has chosen to avoid the dangerous risks of love.
Arpagone, in Molière, avoids love for a woman as he chases the delusion of being sufficient to himself. Nonetheless, his yearning of “having” is never satisfied, but seems to be dominated – as it is in every Stingy – by a “bad infinite”. The more he “has” the more he wants to “have” as what he wants – LIFE – cannot be stashed into a strongbox.
This bottomless greed unveils the foolishness of his deepest aspiration – to guard life against life. For this reason, Enzo Bianchi has defined the Stingy as a “de-creator”; he does not create anything as he is blinded by his yearning of “having”, preventing him from enjoying even his “haves”. It’s the same delusion that urges collectors to strive for owning the very last piece, the most refined that once owned will not grant real enjoyment. The Stingy is a de-creator, for his path of creation is backward as he does not engender life, he turns life into death.
To Freud the urge of avarice is the result of an early obsession of the anal phase of libido: rather than surrendering one’s owned product to the Other, rather than accepting to enter into a symbolic exchange with the Other, it is better to retain, to keep everything, to hold one’s product in oneself. It must be the Other one to ask for what the Other is missing.
The delusion of the Stingy is to believe himself sufficient to himself. This is his sin, proved wrong by the very urge that dominates him – the compulsive and greedy drive to “have” that will be never satisfied and which engenders an endless torment.
In this perspective his focal point is outward of himself: the envy for the “haves” of others is his restless obsession and the most earsplitting. It is not mere envy for the “haves” of the Other, but for the Other’s LIFE as well.
Melanie Klein has said it broadly – envy doesn’t target a cold empty breast, but the warmest brimming one. The envious Stingy bites the hand that feeds him. For this reason, He refuses gratitude to others. His hubris aims for him to do everything by himself, of not having any duty, of not having creditors but debtors instead.
In the meanwhile, the shadow of death bothers his slumbers and reminds him that SHE, THE DEATH, THE LIFE too – will not allow anyone to stash Her into a strongbox.
(1) Giovanni Verga (1840-1922) was born in Catania – in Sicily – and as a writer, he’s considered the chief of the literary movement of verismo. One of the fundamental aspects of verismo is its emphasis on regionalism. Creating naturalist human documents drawn from the lives of peasants, fishermen, miners, shopkeepers, and even feudal aristocrats provided a varied, picturesque, and previously unexplored literary territory characterized by explosive passion. Giovanni Verga was the greater writer of verismo.
© English Translation (2016) Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano
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