My academic career should have started with Giulio Giorello. In the aftermath of the First Gulf War, I decided to study anti-Semitism. I was horrified by the slogans shouted at those who had dared to remind that missiles rained also on Tel Aviv. I met with prof. Giorello and we put together a bibliography. I was surprised me, here’s a Chair who did not stop reading books, I thought, even after he reached the peak of his career. A true rarity in Italian Academia. We draw a list: Julius Evola, Marcello Veneziani (“a papist”), Leon Poliakov … Giorello knew them all and had read them all because he read everything.
His intellectual curiosity could be seen in the variety of seminars organised under his auspices. Students could choose between Irish independents, (Giorello translated into Italian John Mitchell’s Jail Journal translated into Italian), censorship and pornography, animalism (he introduced by Peter Singer to the Italian readers), Wittgenstein, objectivism, Feyerabend. Dahrendorf …
How much of this would be censored in today’s Academia, in times of woke obscurantism. John Mitchell defended slavery. Ayn Rand? Are you kidding, she was the mastermind behind the 1973 coup in Chile, I read it on the Internet. Pornography? Do you mean you want to bring inside University the commodification of women’s bodies? Giorello was born a Marxist and raised at the school of Ludovico Geymonat, the most sectarian among Italian Marxists, then he evolved in an omnivorous direction, perhaps an anarchist, certainly free.
For my dissertation, I went somewhere else. After a few meetings, Giorello suggested me to study the intersections between Revisionist Zionism and Irish nationalism. “I have Begin’s Memoirs at home, you’ll never belive who published them, Ciarrapico [a Fascist publisher], the things one finds, books one buys and then doesn’t even remember where … Anyway if you do not study that stuff, who else?”
Decades later, my last academic effort, the Rabbinic dissertation was precisely on that subject. Giulio Giorello would have liked Louis Israel Newman, Reform Rabbi and Revisionist Zionist, and the group led by Peter Bergson who used to meet at his synagogue: Jabotinsky’s son and Netanyahu’s father, among others.
It is, of course, a fascinating topic. But which in Italy one was not to talk about, especially if you are Jewish. I chose otherwise, after having received some unpleasant warnings from the Labourite Italian Zionist environment. Of which I will tell in future: those who believe in peace with the Palestinians are usually ruthless with their fellow Jews. If you know them, you won’t be surprised. If you like them, and they do not deserve to be liked, you will never believe me.
I am a bit ashamed to admit I lacked courage and I may have disappointed Giulio Giorello. Years later I used to bump into him in the University’s courtyards. A student was writing a dissertation on Romani histories and had Giorello as a supervisor. Because who else could choose such an uncomfortable topic. Giorello had forgotten our first meetings with me as a student. That was him. He simply had no time for the many pettinesses, of which academic life is full. He was always flying higher.
The obituary that Giorello wrote in death of his Master Ludovico Geymonat is a masterpiece of humility and courage. I remember the last line: “Rest in peace, Ludovico, wherever you are”. I would like to say the same, but I lack the intellectual depth to writing anything like that, I’m just sad because the flight of Giulio Giorello has stopped. There are many other horizons that unfortunately we won’t cross.
May other free minds grew up in Milan. Hopefully soon.
(20 June 2020)