Naked Questions

This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "Naked Questions" published in Avvenire from 1st November 2015

The Beauty of the End

Naked Questions/16 - After all, what matters in life is its end, not business

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/02/2016

Logo Qohelet rid mod"Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. (...) The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; (…) The end of the matter; all has been heard."

Ecclesiastes 12,9-13

It's difficult to read great books. It would take meekness of mind, freedom of spirit, purity of heart, and above all poverty: not to have anything and not to defend anything. Some books and the great works of art come to us in our graves, and repeat to us 'come out'. But we do not manage to get out if we are not naked and poor in as we encounter the author who speaks to us and calls us, if we do not get rid of the shroud, leaving it 'wrapped up in a separate place'.

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The civilisation of the bread given as gift

Naked Questions/15 - Living and giving with gratuitousness and gratitude Nothing is wasted this way

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 14/02/2016

Logo Qohelet rid mod"Valencia. At the shore of the pond an elderly man was walking with a dog that was perhaps even older than him. I saw him approach the edge of the water and pull out old loaves of bread from a bag. Piece by piece he threw them to the fish. I stood looking at him, fascinated by the monotony of his gestures. It lasted quite long. It was only when his provisions were finished that I realised I was looking at a verse of Chapter 11 of the Book of Ecclesiastes. »Cast your bread upon the waters.« An elderly man in the autumn of '93 in a Spanish town performed that invitation literally, giving this verse its only, unique sense."

Erri de Luca, Racconto su un verso di Kohèlet  (A story about a verse by Qoheleth)

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11,1) We are looking at one of the most beautiful and evocative verses of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

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The Essential Freedom of the Cloak

Naked Questions/14 - Understanding the snare of the "dead flies" and the gift of the "prophets"

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 07/02/2016

Logo Qohelet rid modAt the foundation of a community there is always a dark, hidden spot, a collective unconscious, which has its origin in the unconscious of the founder and in his/her human need to control. If the community is destined to grow and develop, this dark spot must be purified. The crisis is the purification of this collective unconscious. The community will have to shift from the myth of the perfect founder to a more collective appropriation of the founding myth, purified from what is not essential.

Jean VanierThe Founding Myth

Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honour.” (Ecclesiastes 10,1)

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Merit's Basic Wastes

Naked Questions/13 - Fighting the devaluation of non-economic virtues

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 31/01/2016

Logo Qohelet 13 rid"Full of merit, yet poetically / Humans dwell upon the earth."

Friedrich Hölderlin

The logic of merit has always been very powerful. We human beings have a deep need to believe that there is a logical and just relationship between our actions, talents, commitment and our results. We like to think that our salary is the result of our quality and our commitment, that the grades we get at school depend on how much we study, that we have earned our awards (the word meritum comes from mereri meaning: earn, gain).

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Wise is the one who does not make himself god

Naked Questions/12 - We need a double gratuitousness: both in giving and receiving

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 24/01/2016

Logo Qohelet"Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks."

Book of Proverbs, 1,20-21

Wisdom exists. On this earth there is nothing better than to desire and seek it. But it remains far away, because if you get too close, it disappears or is transformed into something else that's simpler and more trivial. It is something very different from what we call intelligence, talent, wisdom, competence or culture today.

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Bless the great disappointment

Naked Questions/11 - Bitter truth is better than sweet self-deceit

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/01/2016

Logo Qohelet"At times God
kills lovers
Because he doesn't want
to be surpassed
in love”.

Alda Merini, A volte Dio (At times God; rough translation of the Italian original)

Truth is a basic need of the human heart. We have constructed theories of behaviour based on "pyramids of needs", where moral goods are found on the third and fourth "levels", treated as luxury goods that we can afford only after having got enough to eat and drink. As if beauty, love and truth were not essential goods, as if sleep was more necessary than respect, as if sex meant more than relationships or safety was more than care.

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The Pyramid of Victims

Naked Questions/10 - Accumulating goods is not bliss, happiness lies in work

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 10/01/2016

Logo QoheletWhen Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.

Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

The desecration of the law and justice have always activated the voice and the indignation of the prophets who continue to expose the corrupt and call them to conversion.

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Faith is not a market

Naked Questions/9 - The horizon of gratuitousness - for God not to be reduced into a fetish

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 03/01/2016

Logo Qohelet"He is born in vain, who having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realise God in this very life."

Shri Ramakrishna, Searching for God

The religious universe, since it can enable the most powerful energy of the human soul, is the place where higher and more noble feelings and actions can be found. But in that same space great dangers are lurking, too, when the healthy cells of faith go mad, poison our heart and stultify us.

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Better two than just one

Naked Questions/8 - Life lived in isolation and its salt (and salary) are savourless

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/12/2015

Logo Qohelet"On the beach of the worlds / the surf is broken / ancient and new alike / carrying human desires / palpitating in the sun / invoking life. ... And we are here waiting for him. Because he is still to come. ... And no one / will be left alone in the end"

Rough translation of the excerpt from the poem by Maria Pia Giudici entitled Sulla spiaggia dei mondi (On the beach of the worlds)

Solitudes are not all the same. There are people who have become lonely in life, elderly people whose solitude continues to be inhabited by the absence-presence of those whom they have loved. Some people are lonely simply because they are poor, isolated and abandoned on the outskirts of our cities.

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The Fatigue of Waiting Is a Living Thing

Naked Questions/7 - the Consoler comes in the heart of the night of suffering

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/12/2015

Logo Qohelet"The security of faith is not accessible and cannot be made accessible to people today. If one takes it seriously he knows this, and should not at all be deceived. But the ability to open himself up to faith is not denied to him. He can accept it, embrace it with all his might and wait for what will happen to him, see if a new sincerity sprouts in him."

Martin Buber, Hebrew Humanism

The Book of Ecclesiastes is not a novel or a theological treatise. It is more like a spiritual and ethical diary. Its various chapters record and narrate thoughts, emotions and experiences of a traveller under the sun. Its boundless interest and strength depend on the wisdom, theological freedom and moral courage of its author who has been speaking to us for at least twenty-three centuries.

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How to Defeat Death

Naked Questions/6 - Joy should be learnt (and re-learnt) by living the life we have

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 13/12/2015

Logo Qohelet"Here is the grandest sequence of infinitive verbs of all literature. When we are under a relentless force and urgency in our actions, when good or bad things impose and overlap themselves and one is fully absorbed by the world, then there is no other way to name our actions except for an infinitive verb."

Erri de Luca, Kohèlet

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

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Pointing at a Sky without Idols

Naked Questions/5 - the passion of telling about heaven to those who cannot see it anymore

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 06/12/2015

Logo Qohelet

"…Do you know what death is?...it’s a level.
A king, a magistrate, a great man,
passing this gate made once this point
of having lost everything, life and even his name:
Haven’t you realized this yet?

Therefore, listen to me now… do not hesitate,
stand by me, from really close – what does it matter to you?
These tomfooleries are only run by the living:
but we are serious…we belong to death!

Antonio de Curtis-Totò, ’A livella (A level, rough translation of the original poem’s verses)

After telling us about the vanity of intellectual inquiry and the pleasures of the body, Qoheleth now puts an idea to the test, a deeply rooted one that saw and searched for non-vanity in the memory of posterity.

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The Sadness of the Second Happiness

Naked Questions/4 - the importance of seeing and considering the entire human condition

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/11/2015

Logo Qohelet"You little playful boy,
Even this your flowering time
Is like a day filled up with grace and joy
A clear, calm day that comes
As a precursor to life's festival.
Be happy, little boy;
A joyful time is this.
More I'd not tell you; but if your holiday
Seems somewhat tardy yet, let not that grieve you.

Giacomo Leopardi, Saturday Evening in the Village (Il sabato del villaggio; English translation by John Heath-Stubbs)

There is a tension between happiness and truth. As long as both are little, they go together naturally. But when truth grows and takes space, it eventually evaporates our happiness, and a kind of moral pain becomes the precious companion of the last and decisive stretch of road.

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The Infinite Wisdom of the Limit

Naked Questions/3 - Beyond the vertigo of the Apocalypse and the artificial paradises

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 22/11/2015

Logo Qohelet"Only the gods live forever under the sun. As for men, their days are numbered; their achievements are a puff of wind.

(The epic of Gilgamesh; English translation by John Gardner and John Maier).

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind." (Ecclesiastes 1,12-14).

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Everything is an Infinite Abel

Naked Questions/2 - Vanity in Hebrew is "habel", breath. That's what we are.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/11/2015

Logo QoheletWhen King Solomon was seated on the throne of his kingship, his heart was exalted, and he rejoiced in his riches. The Lord's anger was unleashed against him. He took the ring from his finger so he had to go as a vagabond and wandering in the world. He went to the cities of the land of Israel crying and pleading, and he said: 'I am Qoheleth', because his name had been Solomon before.. .

Targum, Ecclesiastes 1,12

All non-misleading wisdom is a chorus of different voices. A single voice, however sublime, is not sufficient to express the polyphony of life. Biblical wisdom is also plural, symphonic and colourful.

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In search of those who seek the truth

Naked Questions/1 A biblical book in which finally there is a place for anyone

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/11/2015

Logo QoheletThe Book of Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) is an ascetic book, the only really and seriously ascetic one - although without any mandates for fasting and abstinence - of the Hebrew canon. Job alone can be mentioned as equal to it, in terms of altitude. But the "blows" of Qoheleth hit harder, they crush mundane science made velvety by its metaphors. It extinguishes a good number of unnecessary troubles, it does not leave the flame of knowledge go extinct, notwithstanding all its mockery and enmity with the transcendent.

Guido Ceronetti, Qohélet. Colui che prende la parola (The One Who Speaks Up)

Some books are especially valuable in times of individual and collective transition. They help a lot to gain an in-depth understanding of the nature of the crises which we live, to give words to the emotions, feelings and pain in us. They illuminate dark areas to which only the greatest of our words can give a name to call them, to shed light on them.

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