Cool 3D World

The Web coined a new vocabulary, gave birth to its own expressive instances, even elaborated an unprecedented kind of humor. With regard to “the weird“, internet users had an exceptional training ground: the now-defunct Vine platform. Here videos had to be 6-second-long, so an original and very complex aesthetic began to take form. In order to make their videos incisive, users had to come up with unsettling narrative tricks: an intelligent use of off-screen space, cross references, brilliantly interrupted climax, shock and surprise.

This was the perfect environment for New York musician and digital artist Brian Tessler, and his accomplice Jon Baken, to create their original and hugely successful project Cool 3D World.

Cool 3D World videos present the viewer with alienating situations, in which monstrous beings perform esoteric and incomprehensible actions. Through the paroxysmal distortion of their characters’ facial features (stretched or compressed to the limit of modeling possibilities, with effects that would normally be considered errors in classical 3D animation) and the build-up of illogical situations, Tessler & Baken plunge us into a sick world where anything can happen. In this universe, any unpleasant detail can hide mystical and psychedelic abysses. This is a hallucinated, exhilarating, disturbing reality yet sometimes its madness gives way to some unexpectedly poetic touches.

What sets apart the Cool 3D World duo from other artists coming from the “weird side” of the internet is their care for the visual aspect, which is always deliberately poised between the professional and the amateur, and for the alwyas great sound department curated by Tessler.
The result is some kind of animated couterpart to Bizarro Fiction; every new release raises the bar of the previous one and — despite the obvious attempt to package the perfect viral product — Cool 3D World never falls back on a repetitive narrative.

Today, Cool 3D World has a YouTube channel, an Instagram account and a Facebook page. Recently Tessler & Baken started a partnership with Adult Swim, and began experimenting with longer formats.
Here is a selection of some of their best works,.

Ship of Fools: The Deviant’s Exile and Other Wrecks

In 1494 in Basel, Sebastian Brant published Ship of Fools (Das Narrenschiff). It is a satirical poem divided into 112 chapters, containing some beautiful woodcuts attributed to Albrecht Dürer.

The image of a boat whose crew is composed entirely of insane men was already widespread in Europe at the time, from Holland to Austria, and it appeared in several poems starting from the XIII Century. Brant used it with humorous and moralistic purposes, devoting each chapter to one foolish passenger, and making a compilation of human sins, faults and vices.

Each character becomes the expression of a specific human “folly” – greed, gambling, gluttony, adultery, gossip, useless studies, usury, sensual pleasure, ingratitude, foul language, etc. There are chapters for those who disobey their physician’s orders, for the arrogants who constantly correct others, for those who willingly put themselves at risk, for those who feel superior, for those who cannot keep a secret, for men who marry old women for inheritance, for those who go out at night singing and playing instuments when it’s time to rest.

Brant’s vision is fierce, even if partly mitigated by a carnivalesque style; in fact the ship of fools is clearly related to the Carnival – which could take its name from the carrus navalis (“ship-like cart”), a festive processional wagon built in shape of a boat.
The Carnival was the time of year where the “sacred” reversal took place, when every excess was allowed, and high priests and powerful noblemen could be openly mocked through pantomimes and wild travesties: these “ships on wheels”, loaded with masks and grotesque characters, effectively brought some kind of madness into the streets. But these celebrations were accepted only because they were limited to a narrow timeframe, a permitted transgression which actually reinforced the overall equilibrium.

Foucault, who wrote about the ship of fools in his History of Madness, interprets it as the symbol of one of the two great non-programmatic strategies used throughout the centuries in order to fight the perils of epidemics (and, generically speaking, the danger of Evil lurking within society).

On one hand there is the concept of the Stultifera Navis, the ship of fools, consisting in the marginalization of anything that’s considered unhealable. The boats full of misfits, lunatics and ne’er-do-wells perhaps really existed: as P. Barbetta wrote, “crazy persons were expelled from the cities, boarded on ships to be abandoned elsewhere, but the captain often threw them in the water or left them on desolate islands, where they died. Many drowned.


The lunatic and the leper were exiled outside the city walls by the community, during a sort of grand purification ritual:

The violent act through which they are removed from the life of the polis retroactively defines the immunitary nature of the Community of normal people. The lunatic is in fact considered taboo, a foreign body that needs to be purged, rejected, excluded. Sailors then beome their keepers: to be stowed inside the Stultifera navis and abandoned in the water signifies the need for a symbolic purifying ritual but also an emprisonment with no hope of redention. The apparent freedom of sailing without a course is, in reality, a kind of slavery from which it is impossible to escape.

(M. Recalcati, Scacco alla ragione, Repubblica, 29-05-16)

On the other hand, Foucault pinpoints a second ancient model which resurfaced starting from the end of the XVII Century, in conjunction with the ravages of the plague: the model of the inclusion of plague victims.
Here society does not instinctively banish a part of the citizens, but instead plans a minute web of control, to establish who is sick and who is healthy.
Literature and theater have often described plague epidemics as a moment when all rules explode, and chaos reigns; on the contrary, Foucault sees in the plague the moment when a new kind of political power is established, a “thorough, obstacle-free power, a power entirely transparent to its object; a power that is fully exercised” (from Abnormal).
The instrument of quarantine is implemented; daily patrols are organized, citizens are controlled district after district, house after house, even window after window; the population is submitted to a census and divided to its minimum terms, and those who do not show up at the headcount are excluded from their social status in a “surgical” manner.

This is why this second model shows the sadeian traits of absolute control: a plagued society is the delight of those who dream of a military society.

A real integration of madness and deviance was never considered.

Still today, the truly scandalous figures (as Baudrillard pointed out in Simulachra and Simulation) are the mad, the child and the animal – scandalous, because they do not speak. And if they don’t talk, if they exist outside of the logos, they are dangerous: they need to be denied, or at least not considered, in order to avoid the risk of jeopardising the boundaries of culture.
Therefore children are not deemed capable of discernment, are not considered fully entitled individuals and obviously do not have a voice in important decisions; animals, with their mysterious eyes and their unforgivable mutism, need to be always subjugated; the mad, eventually, are relegated abord their ship bound to get lost among the waves.

We could perhaps add to Baudrillard’s triad of “scandals” one more problematic category, the Foreigner – who speaks a language but it’s not our language, and who since time immemorial was seen alternatively as a bringer of innovation or of danger, as a “freak of nature” (and thus included in bestiaries and accounts of exotic marvels) or as a monstrum which was incompatible with an advanced society.

The opposition between the city/terra firma, intended as the Norm, and the maritime exhile of the deviant never really disappeared.

But getting back to Brant’s satire, that Narrenschiff which established the ship allegory in the collective unconscious: we could try to interpret it in a less reactionary or conformist way.
In fact taking a better look at the crowd of misfits, madmen and fools, it is difficult not to identify at least partially with some of the ship’s passengers. It’s not by chance that in the penultimate chapter the author included himself within the senseless riffraff.

That’s why we could start to doubt: what if the intent of the book wasn’t to simply ridicule human vices, but rather to build a desperate metaphore of our existential condition? What if those grotesque, greedy and petulant faces were our own, and dry land didn’t really exist?
If that’s the case – if we are the mad ones –, what caused our madness?

There is a fifth, last kind of “scandalous-because-silent” interlocutors, with which we have much, too much in common: they are the corpses.

And within the memento mori narrative, laughing skeletons are functional characters as much as Brant’s floating lunatics. In the danse macabre, each of the skeletons represents his own specific vanity, each one exhibits his own pathetic mundane pride, his aristocratic origin, firmly convinced of being a prince or a beggar.

Despite all the ruses to turn it into a symbol, to give it some meaning, death still brings down the house of cards. The corpse is the real unhealable obscene, because it does not communicate, it does not work or produce, and it does not behave properly.
From this perspective the ship of fools, much larger than previously thought, doesn’t just carry vicious sinners but the whole humanity: it represents the absurdity of existence which is deprived of its meaning by death. When faced with this reality, there are no more strangers, no more deviants.

What made us lose our minds was a premonition: that of the inevitable shipwreck.
The loss of reason comes with realizing that our belief that we can separate ourselves from nature, was a sublime illusion. “Mankind – in Brecht’s words is kept alive by bestial acts“. And with a bestial act, we die.

The ancient mariner‘s glittering eye has had a glimpse of the truth: he discovered just how fragile the boundary is between our supposed rationality and all the monsters, ghosts, damnation, bestiality, and he is condemned to forever tell his tale.

The humanity, maddened by the vision of death, is the one we see in the wretches embarked on the raft of the Medusa; and Géricault‘s great intuition, in order to study the palette of dead flesh, was to obtain and bring to his workshop some real severed limbs and human heads – reduction of man to a cut of meat in a slaughterhouse.

Even if in the finished painting the horror is mitigated by hope (the redeeming vessel spotted on the horizon), hope certainly wasn’t what sparked the artist’s interest, or gave rise to the following controversies. The focus here is on the obscene flesh, the cannibalism, the bestial act, the Panic that besieges and conquers, the shipwreck as an orgy where all order collpases.

Water, water everywhere“: mad are those who believe they are sane and reasonable, but maddened are those who realize the lack of meaning, the world’s transience… In this unsolvable dilemma lies the tragedy of man since the Ecclesiastes, in the impossibility of making a rational choice

We cannot be cured from this madness, we cannot disembark from this ship.
All we can do is, perhaps, embrace the absurd, enjoy the adventurous journey, and marvel at those ancient stars in the sky.

Brant’s Das Narrenschiff di Brant si available online in its original German edition, or in a 1874 English translation in two volumes (1 & 2), or on Amazon.

Welcome To The Dollhouse

Anatoly Moskvin, a linguist and philologist born in 1966 in Nizhny Novgorod, had earned the unquestioning respect of his fellow academics.
He fluently spoke thirteen languages, and was the author of important studies and academic papers. Great expert of Celtic folklore and of Russian funerary customs, at the age of 45 he was still living with his parents; he refrained from drinking or smoking, collected dolls and it was murmured that he was a virgin. But everybody knows that geniuses are always a little eccentric.

Yet Anatoly Moskvin was hiding a secret. A personal mission he felt he had to accomplish, driven by compassion and love, but one he knew his fellow citizens, not to mention the law, would have deemed crazy.
That very secret was to seal his fate, behind the walls of the mental institute where Anatoly Moskvin now spends his days.

Nizhny Novgorod, capital of the Volga District and the fifth Russian city, is an important cultural centre. In the surroundin areas several hundred graveyards cand be found, and in 2005 Moskvin was assigned the task of recording all the headstones: in two years he visited more than 750 cemeteries.
It was a tough job. Anatoly was forced to walk alone, sometimes for 30 km a day, facing harsh condistions. He had to spend many nights outdoors, drinking from puddles and taking shelter in the abandoned barns of the inhospitable region. One night, caught in the dark, to avoid freezing to death he found no better option than to break in the cemetery burial chamber and sleep in a coffin which was already prepared for next morning’s funeral. When at dawn the gravediggers arrived, they found him sleeping: Anatoly dashed off shouting his excuses – among the general laughter of undertakers who luckily did not chase after him.

The amount of data Mskvin gathered during this endeavour was unprecedented, and the study promised to be “unique” and “priceless”, in the words of those who followed its development. It was never published, but it served as the basis for a long series of articles on the history of Nizhny Novgorod’s cemeteries, published by Moskvin between 2006 and 2010.
But in 2011 the expert’s career ended forever, the day the police showed up to search his home.

Among the 60.000 books in is private library, stacked along the walls and on the floor, between piles of scattered paper and amidst a confusion of objects and documents, the agents found 26 strange, big dolls that gave off an unmistakable foul odor.
These were actually the mummified corpses of 26 little girls, three to 12-year-olds.
Anatoly Moskvin’s secret mission, which lasted for twenty years, had finally been discovered.

Celt druids – as well as Siberian shamans – slept on graves to communicate with the spirits of the deceased. For many years Anatoly did the same. He would lay down on the grave of a recently buried little girl, and speak with her. How are you in that tomb, little angel? Are you cold? Would you like to take a walk?
Some girls answered that they felt alright, and in that case Anatoly shared their happiness.
Other times, the child wept, and expressed the desire to come back to life.
Who would have got the heart to leave them down there, alone and frightened in the darkness of a coffin?

Anatoly studied mummification methods in his books. After exhuming the bodies, he dried them with a mixture of salt and baking soda, hiding them around the cemetery. When they dried out completely, he brought them home and dressed them, providing a bit of thickness to the shrunken limbs with layers of fabric. In some cases he built wax masks, painted with nail polish, to cover their decomposed faces; he bought wigs, bright-colored clothes in the attempt of giving back to those girls their lost beauty.


His elderly parents, who were mostly away from home, did not realize what he was doing. If their son had the hobby of building big puppets, what was wrong with that? Anatoly even disguised one of the bodies as a plush bear.

Moskvin talked to these little bodies he had turned into dolls, he bought them presents. They watched cartoons together, sang songs, held birthday parties.

But he knew this was only a temporary solution. His hope was that science would someday find a way to bring “his” girls back to life – or maybe he himself, during his academic research, could find some ancient black magic spell that would achieve the same effect. Either way, in the meantime, those little girls needed to be comforted and cuddled.

You can’t imagine it”, said during the trial the mother of one of the girls Moskvin stole from the cemetery and mummified. ”You can’t imagine that somebody would touch the grave of your child, the most holy place in this world for you. We had been visiting the grave of our child for nine years and we had no idea it was empty. Instead, she was in this beast’s apartment. […] For nine years he was living with my mummified daughter in his bedroom. I had her for ten years, he had her for nine.”.

Anatoly replied: “You abandoned your girls in the cold – and I brought them home and warmed them up”.

Charged with desecration of graves and dead bodies, Moskvin faced up to five years in prison; but in 2012 he was declared suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, unfit to stand trial, and thus sentenced for coercitive sanitary treatment. In all probability, he will never get out of the psychiatric institute he’s held in.

The little girls never awoke.

Moskvin’s story is somehow analogue to the ones I told in this series of posts:
L’amore che non muore – I   (Italian only)
L’amore che non muore – II  (Italian only)
L’amore che non muore – III  (English)

The Abominable Vice

Among the bibliographic curiosities I have been collecting for years, there is also a little book entitled L’amico discreto. It’s the 1862 Italian translation of The silent friend (1847) by R. e L. Perry; aside from 100 beautiful anatomical plates, the book also shows a priceless subtitle: Observations on Onanism and Its Baneful Results, Including Mental and Sexual Incapacity and Impotence.

Just by skimming through the table of contents, it’s clear how masturbation was indicated as the main cause for a wide array of conditions: from indigestion to “hypoconriac melancholy”, from deafness to “bending of the penis”, from emaciated complexion to the inability to walk, in a climax of ever more terrible symptoms preparing the way for the ultimate, inevitable outcome — death.
One page after the other, the reader learns why onanism is to be blamed for such illnesses, specifically because it provokes an

excitement of the nervous system [which] by stimulating the organs to transient vigour, brings, ere middle life succeeds the summer of manhood, all the sensible infirmities and foibles of age; producing in its impetuous current, such an assemblage of morbid irritation, that even on trivial occasions its excitement is of a high and inflammable character, and its endurance beyond the power of reason to sustain.

But this is just the beginning: the worst damage is on the mind and soul, because this state of constant nervous stimulation

places the individual in a state of anxiety and misery for the remainder of his existence, — a kind of contingency, which it is difficult for language adequately to describe; he vegetates, but lives not: […] leading the excited deviating mind into a fertile field of seductive error — into a gradual and fatal degradation of manhood — into a pernicious, disgraceful, and ultimately almost involuntary application of those inherent rights which nature wisely instituted for the preservation of her species […] in defiance of culture, moral feeling, moral obligation, and religious impressions: thus the man, who, at the advent of youth and genius was endowed with gaiety and sociality, becomes, ere twenty-five summers have shed their lustre on him, a misanthrope, and a nadir-point of discontent! What moral region does that man live in? […] Is it nothing to light the gloomy torch that guides, by slow and melancholy steps to the sepulchre of manhood, in the gay and fascinating spring-time of youth and ardent desire; when the brilliant fire of passion, genius, and sentiment, ought to electrify the whole frame?

This being a physiology and anatomy essay, today its embellishments, its evocative language (closer to second-rate poetry than to science) seem oddly out of place — and we can smile upon reading its absurd theories; yet The Silent Friend is just one of many Nineteeth Century texts demonizing masturbation, all pretty popular since 1712, when an anonymous priest published a volume called Onania, followed in 1760 by L’Onanisme by Swiss doctor Samuel-Auguste Tissot, which had rapidly become a best-seller of its time.
Now, if physicians reacted in such a harsh way against male masturbation, you can guess their stance on female auto-eroticism.

Here, the repulsion for an act which was already considered aberrant, was joined by all those ancestral fears regarding female sexuality. From the ancient vagina dentata (here is an old post about it) to Plato’s description of the uterus (hystera) as an aggressive animale roaming through the woman’s abdomen, going through theological precepts in Biblical-Christian tradition, medicine inherited a somber, essentially misogynistic vision: female sexuality, a true repressed collective unconscious, was perceived as dangerous and ungovernable.
Another text in my library is the female analogue of Tissot’s Onania: written by J.D.T. de Bienville, La Ninfomania ovvero il Furore Uterino (“Nymphomania, or The Uterine Fury”) was originally published in France in 1771.
I’m pasting here a couple of passages, which show a very similar style in respect to the previous quotes:

We see some perverted young girls, who have conducted a voluptuous life over a long period of time, suddenly fall prey to this disease; and this happens when forced retirement is keeping them from those occasions which facilitated their guilty and fatal inclination. […] All of them, after they are conquered by such malady, occupy themselves with the same force and energy with those objects which light in their passion the infernal flame of lewd pleasure […], they indulge in reading lewd Novels, that begin by bending their heart to soft feelings, and end up inspiring the most depraved and gross incontinence. […] Those women who, after taking a few steps in this horrible labyrinth, miss the strength to come back, are drawn almost imperceptibly to excesses, which after corrupting and damaging their good name, deprive them of their own life.

The book goes on to describe the hallucinatory state in which the nymphomaniacs fall, frantically hurling at men (by nature all chaste and pure, it seems), and barely leaving them “the time to escape their hands“.
Of course, this an Eighteenth Century text. But things did not improve in the following century: during the Nineteenth Century, actually, the ill-concealed desire to repress female sexuality found one of its cruelest incarnations, the so-called “extirpation”.

This euphemism was used to indicate the practice of clitoridectomy, the surgical removal of the clitoris.
Everybody kows that female genital mutilations continue to be a reality in many countries, and they have been the focus of several international campaigns to abandon the practice.
It seems hard to believe that, far from being solely a tribal tradition, it became widespread in Europe and in the United States within the frame of modern Western medicine.
Clitoridectomy, a simple yet brutal operation, was based on the idea that female masturbation led to hysteria, lesbianism and nymphomania. The perfect circular reasoning behind this theory was the following: in mental institutions, insane female patients were often caught masturbating, therefore masturbation had to be the cause of their lunacy.

One of the most fervent promoters of extirpation was Dr. Isaac Baker Brown, English gynaecologist and obstetrical surgeon.
In 1858 he opened a clinic on Notting Hill, ad his therapies became so successful that Baker Brown resigned from Guy’s Hospital to work privately full time. By means of clitoridectomy, he was able to cure (if we are to trust his own words) several kinds of madness, epilepsy, catalepsy and hysteria in his patients: in 1866 he published a nice little book on the subject, which was praised by the Times because Brown “brought insanity within the scope of surgical treatment“. In his book, Brown reported 48 cases of female masturbation, the heinous effects on the patients’ health, and the miraculous result of clitoridectomy in curing the symptoms.

We don’t know for sure how many women ended up under the enthusiastic doctor’s knife.
Brown would have probably carried on with his mutilation work, if he hadn’t made the mistake of setting up a publicity campaign to advertise his clinic. Even then, self-promotion was considered ethically wrong for a physician, so on April 29, 1866, the British Medical Journal published a heavy j’accuse against the doctor. The Lancet followed shortly after, then even the Times proved to have changed position and asked if the surgical treatment of illness was legal at all. Brown ended up being investigated by the Lunacy Commission, which dealt with the patients’ welfare in asylums, and in panic he denied he ever carried out clitoridectomies on his mentally ill patients.

But it was too late.
Even the Royal College of Surgeons turned away from him, and a meeting decided (with 194 approving votes against 38 opposite votes) his removal from the Obstetric Society of London.
R. Youngson and I. Schott, in A Brief History of Bad Medicine (Robinson, 2012), highlight the paradox of this story:

The extraordinary thing was that Baker Brown was disgraced, not because he practised clitoridectomy for ridiculuous indications, but because, out of greed, he had offended against professional ethics. No one ever suggested that there was anything wrong with clitoridectomy, as such. Many years were to pass before this operation was condemned by the medical profession.

And many more, until eventually masturbation could be freed from medical criminalization and moral prejudice: at the beginning of the Twentieth Century doctors still recommended the use of constrictive laces and gears, straight-jackets, up to shock treatments like cauterization or electroconvulsive therapy.

1903 patent to prevent erections and nocturnal pollutions through the use of spikes, electric shocks and an alarm bell.

Within this dreadful galaxy of old anti-masturbation devices, there’s one looking quite harmless and even healthy: corn flakes, which were invented by famous Dr. Kellogg as an adjuvant diet against the temptations of onanism. And yet, whenever cereals didn’t do the trick, Kellogg advised that young boys’ foreskins should be sewn with wire; as for young girls, he recommended burning the clitoris with phenol, which he considered

an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will-power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise entire self-control.
The worse cases among young women are those in which the disease has advanced so far that erotic thoughts are attended by the same voluptuous sensations that accompany the practice. The author has met many cases of this sort in young women, who acknowledged that the sexual orgasm was thus produced, often several times daily. The application of carbolic acid in the manner described is also useful in these cases in allaying the abnormal excitement, which is a frequent provocation of the practice of this form of mental masturbation.

(J. H. Kellogg, Plain Facts for Old And Young, 1888)

It was not until the Kinsey Reports (1948-1953) that masturbation was eventually legitimized as a natural and healthy part of sexuality.
All in all, as Woody Allen put it, it’s just “sex with someone you love“.

On the “fantastic physiology” of the uterus, there is a splendid article (in Italian language) here. Wikipedia has also a page on the history of masturbation. I also recommend Orgasm and the West. A History of Pleasure from the Sixteenth Century to the Present, by R. Muchembled.

Astral Colonel NOF4’s telepathic voyages

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To write is to travel without the hassle of the luggage, Salgari wrote. For Mauriac, “a writer is essentially a man who does not resign himself to loneliness“. Both these concepts, the mental voyage and the struggle with solitude, are good ways to understand the life and work of NOF4, whose original name was Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti.

We don’t get to choose life. We keep telling ourselves we are in control, but sometimes the boat’s wheel is broken from the beginning. The life that was destined to Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti was a painful one: born in Rome in  1927, on New Year’s Eve, son of Concetta Nannetti and of unknown father, he soon grew to be clearly different from other kids. At the time, this meant there was only one destination for him on the horizon – the insane asylum. Oreste entered a mental hospital for the first time at age 10, after having been committed to a charity institution three years before. In 1948 he was charged with insulting a public official, but the judge acquitted him on the grounds of deminished responsibility (“total mind defect“); he then spent some 10 years at the Santa Maria della Pietà psychiatric hospital, before being definitively transferred to Volterra. Oreste arrived to the asylum in Volterra in the worst possible moment, when the hospital was still ruled by a prison regime, with barred and locked windows and the order to address the male nurses as “guards”. Things slowly began to improve after 1963, but the police atmosphere continued, although with increasingly lighter tones, until the hospital was abandoned in 1979 after the Basaglia Law. In 1973 Nannetti was dismissed, and transferred to the Bianchi Institute. He died in Volterra in 1994, and to look at his life, now, it all seems to be spent under the sign of civil negation, beginning with that ignominious initials on his birth certificate, “NN”, “Non Noto” (“unknown”), where his father’s name was supposed to be. The life of a poor son of a bitch that ought to be removed, erased, forgot. Just another failed mutation.

But Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti, in spite of everyone, absolutely left a trace of his passage on this reality, in fact he cut it, sliced it, incised it. And he wrote, to travel with his mind and fight his way through loneliness.

During his years of internment in Volterra, Nannetti engraved his feverish masterpiece: a colossal, immense “graffiti book” on the wall of the Ferri section. 180 meters long (590ft) and 2 meters high (6ft), the graffiti was accomplished by using the buckle from his waistcoat (all the patients wore one) to carve the plaster.  Later, Nannetti began “writing” in this same way on the concrete banister of a big staircase, adding another 106 meters (347ft) by 20 centimeters (8in) to his work. His production also consists of more than 1.600 writings and drawings on papers, including several postcards: these postcards, which he never sent and which were adressed to imaginary relatives, are another attempt to win his battle over an unthinkable solitude.

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If his said and miserable biography, which you just read summarized in a single paragraph, was Nannetti’s “official” life, as one could see it from the outside, through his writings and graffiti his real story comes out, his true reality.
In this dimension, Oreste was not just Oreste, but rather an “astronautical mining engineer in the mental system“, “saint of the photo-electric cell“, and called himself Nanof, Nof, or mainly NOF4. This acronym meant indiscriminately “Nannetti Oreste Fernando”, “French Oriental Nuclear”, or even “French Oriental Nations”, while 4 was the identification number he received at the beginning of his internment. How many multitudes live inside a man who defines himself as “Nations”?
NOF4’s “mining” work consisted in studying and digging through reality, and his graffiti really was his “mining key” to access the unfathomable depths of the psyche. In it we read that “glass, metal sheets, metals, wood, the bones of the human being and of animals and the eye and the spirit are all controlled through the reflective magnetic cathode beam; all images who possess a body heat are living matter, and they can even die twice“.

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NOF4 can telepathically communicate with aliens: “Nannetti’s texts are about imaginary nations taking over other imaginary nations, about spaceflights, about telepathic connections, about fantastic characters, poetically described as tall, spinach-like and with a Y-shaped nose, about hypertechnological weapons, about mysterious alchemic combinations, about magical virtues of metals, ecc.“. (Quaderni d’altri tempi, II,6)

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As a paranoid agent under cover in Burroughs‘ Interzone, Nannetti received dispatches from beyond and reported his psychic investigation’s results on the concrete wall: “I have gathered some news by telepathic means, which will seem weird to you but are true: 1. The Earth is still, and stars turn on Earth’s side; 2. The woman has got no father, your father was a woman“. Heroic, borderline scientist inside his “nuclear observatory“, NOF4 measured magnetic fluxes, saw forests made of metal pylons and antennas with his mind’s eye, and kept carving his graffiti with his buckle.
The dense lines of text of which [the graffiti] is composed, with drawings and illustrations sometimes interrupting it, give the idea of a constant flow of words, sounds, images. An encyclopedia of the world almost treated as inner dialogue, and delivered to the world itself with urgence, maybe chaotically, but surely with a strong determination“, writes sociologist Adolfo Fattori, and his words are echoed by Lara Fremder: “Maybe this is how it went, it happened that a man with no history tried to write one for himself, and in order to do that he chose a wall, a big wall, a 180 meters surface, the whole facade of the psychiatric hospital. And he began to write and draw and to collect everything inside carved pages on the wall. […] What I think, what I love to think, is that NOF4 had other interlocutors to have a conversation with, and he showed them his drawings, and handed them the keys to his own mining system. I love to imagine these interlocutors really understood that lunatic well, studying with him projects and plans for other dimensions, surely not for this one, where day after day we witness a slow agony of meaning and beauty“.

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The psychiatric hospital in Volterra, closed in 1979, is in a state of complete abandon. Of Nannetti’s graffiti, which is considered a world masterpiece of outsider art, little was saved (a piece was detached in 2013 for preservation). Only some parts of it still stand, and we have just a few photocopies of his writings and drawings. If not for Aldo Trafeli, a male nurse who was the only one to talk to Nannetti, eventually becoming his friend, we probably wouldn’t even know his story.

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Among the still existing parts of the graffiti, one in particular is the visible trace of Nannetti’s kindness. In some points, the lines of text go up and down: when asked about this strange “wave”, Oreste replied that he did it because he didn’t want to disturb the other patients, who sat against the wall warming in the sun; he could have asked them to move, but he preferred to continue his carvings around their heads.

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Nannetti, the “nuclear safecracker”, the “astral colonel”, never went past elementary school. But, even without being a person of letters, in writing he found a spaceship to explore his own illness and pain.
NOF4 was not alone anymore, NOF4 could travel: “as a free butterfly singing, the whole world is mine… and everything makes me dream…

The only existing moving images of NOF4.

Here’s the italian Wiki page about NOF4. The quotes in the post come from a marvellous monographic number of  Quaderni d’altri tempi entirely dedicated to Nannetti.
(Thanks, gery!)

Il pietrificatore di pazzi

Abbiamo già parlato dei più famosi pietrificatori in questo articolo. Ritorniamo sull’argomento per esaminare la figura del torinese Giuseppe Paravicini (1871-1927), e la peculiare storia dei suoi preparati.

Paravicini ricoprì la carica di anatomista presso l’Istituto di Anatomia Patologica del più grande manicomio d’Italia, a Mombello di Limbiate, dal 1901 al 1917, e dal 1910 al 1917 fu appuntato direttore del suddetto nosocomio. Avendo accesso diretto ai cadaveri dei pazienti deceduti da poco all’interno dell’istituto, Paravicini sperimentò su di essi alcune tecniche conservative, costituendo una notevole collezione di preparati.

Fra i reperti perfettamente conservati, si contavano (nelle parole del Paravicini stesso), “una bella serie di encefali di idioti, epilettici, paralitici, dementi precoci, dementi senili, alcoolisti […] intestini con ulcere tifose e tubercolari […] polmoni […] con vaste caverne, fegati affetti da cirrosi atrofica, ipertrofica, da sarcomi e noduli cancerigni, una milza sarcomatosa di eccezionali dimensioni, reni con neoplasmi, cisti, ecc.“; i cervelli, in particolare, erano tutti suddivisi lombrosianamente secondo la malattia mentale che li aveva afflitti. Vi erano anche uno scheletro deforme affetto da nanismo e delle preparazioni in liquido di teste e feti.

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Ma i pezzi più straordinari erano i busti interi, che ancora mostravano perfette espressioni del volto. Fra di essi, anche il busto di un acromegalico e quello di alcune donne.

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E, infine, i due corpi interi pietrificati dal Paravicini: quello di Angela Bonette, morta il 3 giugno del 1914 e affetta da demenza senile, e Evelina Gobbo, un’epilettica morta di polmonite il 16 novembre 1917.

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Giuseppe Paravicini pare fosse gelosissimo del suo metodo segreto, e come altri pietrificatori ne portò le formule nella tomba.
Quello che si può dedurre dai documenti e dalle testimonianze oculari è che per la conservazione dei corpi interi egli utilizzasse una pompa a pressione costante per iniettare, mediante un’incisione sull’inguine del defunto, soluzioni a caldo di cera, solventi e paraffina (secondo altri, olii balsamici e qualche tipo di fissante). Il liquido entrava dall’arteria femorale, attraversava tutti gli organi, il derma e lo strato sottocutaneo per poi uscire dalla vena.
Per quanto riguarda le parti anatomiche più piccole, invece, egli si affidava all’uso di formolo, alcol e glicerina. Si trattava di metodi complessi e non certo rapidi, molto simili per alcuni versi a quelli utilizzati dal suo ben più celebre predecessore Paolo Gorini.

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Il risultato era, se possibile, ancora più incredibile delle pietrificazioni del Gorini. Scrive infatti Alberto Carli: “le opere di Paravicini appaiono al tatto più morbide e umide di quelle goriniane, che dimostrano, invece, un eccezionale stato di secchezza lignea.” Le sue preparazioni mantenevano un aspetto talmente realistico che, immancabile, si diffuse la leggenda che egli eseguisse le sue mummificazioni mentre il soggetto era ancora in vita, essendo in grado di sperimentare in corpore vili (cioè su corpi di persone di scarsa importanza). Certo è che la sua collezione, proprio per il fatto d’esser stata realizzata sui cadaveri di degenti del manicomio, aveva un elemento disturbante ed eticamente imbarazzante che spinse i responsabili a tenerla sempre nascosta negli scantinati dell’istituto.

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I reperti vennero in seguito trasferiti all’Ospedale Psichiatrico Paolo Pini, il cui direttore prof. Antonio Allegranza fece installare delle teche a protezione dei corpi interi, e dei supporti in legno per i busti. Sempre Allegranza sostiene di aver visto la pompa con cui presumibilmente Paravicini iniettava la sua formula, prima che andasse persa nel trasloco da Mombello al Paolo Pini.
Dal Paolo Pini, la collezione venne spostata brevemente al Brefiotrofio di Milano, poi nella Facoltà di Scienza Veterinaria.
In tutti questi decenni, gli straordinari preparati rimasero dietro porte chiuse, visibili soltanto agli studiosi.
Infine, l’Università di Milano li affidò in deposito gratuito alla Collezione Anatomica Paolo Gorini per poterli degnamente esporre. Oggi sono finalmente visibili all’interno dell’Ospedale Vecchio di Lodi, nelle sale adiacenti alla collezione Gorini.

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I volti di questi anonimi pazienti del manicomio di Mombello rimangono, al di là dell’interesse anatomico, una drammatica testimonianza di un’epoca: ombre di vite spezzate, spese in condizioni impensabili oggi.
L’ex-manicomio di Mombello è tutt’ora un’enorme struttura abbandonata: i lunghissimi corridoi ricoperti di murales, le scalinate fatiscenti, i cortili divorati dalla vegetazione, i padiglioni dove arrugginiscono i letti e le sedie d’epoca sono ormai esplorati soltanto da fotografi in cerca di location suggestive.

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NOTA: le foto a colori presenti nell’articolo ci sono state gentilmente offerte dal nostro lettore Eros, che ha visitato la collezione quando era ancora in stato di abbandono nei sotterranei di una palazzina della Provincia di Milano; le foto in bianco e nero (precedenti di almeno una decina d’anni) sono opera di Attilio Mina. Le foto del manicomio sono invece di Emma Cacciatori.

(Grazie, Eros!)

Specchiarsi nell’Ombra

(Articolo a cura della nostra guestblogger Jennifer Bertasini)

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Ovunque andrai, sarò con te,

sempre, sino alla fine dei tuoi giorni.

E, allora, mi poserò sulla tua tomba.

(de Musset, La nuit de décembre)

C’è un corvo, posato su una pietra tombale; un giovane uomo si china sulla lapide su cui sono incisi i versi di de Musset: il ritratto del defunto si specchia negli occhi del curvo visitatore. I loro lineamenti coincidono alla perfezione.

Questa la scena finale de Lo studente di Praga (1913), sperimentale film horror in bianco e nero basato su uno script di Hanns Heinz Ewers. La silhouette del giovane appena sepolto e della sua ombra aberrante coincidono con quella di Balduin, studente spadaccino che, dilapidato il patrimonio in notturne dissolutezze, baratta il suo riflesso con una somma ingente di denaro, firmando un contratto con Scapinelli – novello demonio oscarwildiano – e sancendo, così, la sua disfatta. Tra eteree contesse annegate, ballerine caucasiche e duelli da drammatica operetta, si consumano delitti e incomprensioni: il colpevole non può che essere il riflesso di Balduin, incarnante la materializzazione dei suoi antichi disagi esistenziali e della scissione interiore che gl’impedisce, tra l’altro, di vivere una soddisfacente intimità con la sua amata. Impossibile sfuggire a colpe pregresse, né al proprio lato istintivo (che può finire per guidarci, indipendentemente dalla ragione): dopo un incontro rivelatore col suo doppio, nelle suggestive vesti del vetturino della carrozza su cui Balduin sta viaggiando, il giovane spara al phàsma, all’apparizione. Prevedibilmente, è dalle sue stesse arterie che il sangue finisce per fluire; un ghignante Scapinelli strappa il contratto sul cadavere.

Tangibile, all’interno della pellicola, l’influsso di Hoffmann (La storia del riflesso perduto), ma la letteratura Otto-Novecentesca appare ampiamente costellata di opere analoghe, in cui la perdita dell’ombra, la fuga del riflesso e lo sdoppiamento rappresentano la cedevolezza dell’autocontrollo rispetto alle pulsioni, e i personaggi appaiono in balia di terrificanti Doppelgänger che agiscono in loro vece, portandoli alla morte, o – soluzione ancor più aberrante! – a forme terribili di psicosi e follia.

Si pensi ai testi di Chamisso (Storia meravigliosa di Peter Schlemil), Andersen (L’ombra), Jean Paul (Espero), Richard Dehmel (Masken), Ferdinand Raimund (Il re delle Alpi e il misantropo), Oscar Wilde (Il ritratto di Dorian Gray), Poe (William Wilson), Dostoevskij (Il sosia). La personalità di ognuno di questi autori era venata da disturbi psichici, nervosi, sessuali, aggravati dall’abuso d’alcool e d’oppiacei; tratto in comune: frequenti allucinazioni sulla scissione di sé. Jean Paul, ad esempio, si perdeva in solipsistiche elucubrazioni sull’Io, rabbrividendo d’orrore nel non riuscire a riconoscersi riflesso nelle iridi di un interlocutore; Maupassant tremò nell’osservare se stesso strisciare notturnamente all’interno della sua camera al fine di dettare nuovi appunti; Goethe intercettò l’inquietante figura del Sé del futuro cavalcargli incontro lungo il sentiero per Drusenheim; Chamisso, trascinatosi a letto in seguito a una notte brava, accusò il colpo di trovarvi il suo doppio e di esser costretto a convenire che Quello fosse il reale se stesso; in Eines Nachts, Poritzky cedette alla superstizione infantile di osservare il proprio riflesso nello specchio a mezzanotte: perso nei ricordi della giovinezza, la sua figura parve sdoppiarsi tra passato e presente, sino a che il poeta non inorridì innanzi all’improvvisa realizzazione del suo terrificante invecchiamento.

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Il terrore d’impazzire, di perdere il controllo della propria coscienza, sembrano dunque essere alla radice del timore della perdita dell’ombra, del pensiero di un doppio libero d’agire indipendentemente dalla nostra volontà, della cessione del proprio riflesso agli altri – demoni, solitamente, che essendo originariamente loro stessi ombre, al pari di spiriti, spettri, elfi e maghi, desiderano averne altre per sé. Ed è questo, dunque, il germe del terrore primigenio: non possedere un’ombra implicherebbe l’astrazione dal mondo sensibile, quello dei vivi. Solo le anime (si pensi a leggende persiane, o allo stesso Inferno dantesco) e i morti, giacendo, non proiettano mobili riflessi.

Di qui il fiorire di leggende e superstizioni, contemporanee, antiche, esotiche o tribali. Per l’assenza di ombre al suo interno, il sacro recinto degli Arcadi (il Liceo), era assimilato al regno dei morti: chi osava avventurarvisi sarebbe deceduto entro un anno. La stessa sorte toccherebbe, secondo credenze diffuse presso popoli germanici e slavi, nonché presso gli ebrei, a chi durante particolari ricorrenze (la Vigilia di Natale, S. Silvestro, Sukkot, l’intervallo tra Natale e l’Epifania) non proietta alcuna ombra sui muri o ne mostra una sdoppiata; chi possiede un’ombra debole o incerta verrebbe invece considerato malato, e dovrebbe quindi essere esposto al sole per richiamare l’energia – il doppio – sfuggente.

Secondo Frazer (Il ramo d’oro), presso gli abitanti delle Isole Salomone vige il divieto di calpestare l’ombra del re – pena la morte, per oltraggio al corpo dello sovrano stesso -, mentre Ambonya e Uliase evitano di uscire a mezzogiorno, quando il sole, perpendicolare, rende le ombre evanescenti (ed è proprio a quell’ora che il guerriero leggendario Tukaitawa, per i Mangaiani, venne assassinato, in quanto la sua forza variava d’intensità a seconda della definizione del suo umbratile doppio, a sua volta dipendente dall’inclinazione del sole).

Per il primitivo, l’ombra è infatti un’entità tangibile e reale, in grado d’agire indipendentemente, o addirittura di prendere il controllo sulla coscienza, nei sogni e nelle visioni, prima di distaccarsi definitivamente dal corpo al momento del trapasso. E dove sceglie di rifugiarsi, allora, questa mobile e ambigua entità? Sulle pareti di una tomba egizia, forse, dipinta in colori sgargianti per non essere dimenticata. Oppure in una dimensione alternativa, tramutandosi, magicamente, in ciò che religiosamente si definisce anima.

Ed è appunto per il timore di perderla anzitempo che gli Zulù evitano di riflettersi nelle torbide paludi, che non restituirebbero chiaramente i loro lineamenti, e gli antichi Greci interpretavano il sognare il proprio eìdolon – separato da sé – come presagio di morte; per la stessa ragione – preservare l’anima dalla fuga – in alcune regioni tedesche vige l’usanza di velare gli specchi qualora vi sia un morto in casa: l’ombra potrebbe continuare a dimorare nella superficie riflettente, e scorgere due morti – quello reale e il suo riflesso – implicherebbe l’imminente decesso di un altro familiare.

Sia in Oriente che in Occidente si sono registrati, nel corso dei secoli, gustosi aneddoti inerenti al riconoscimento – anche giuridico – dell’ombra quale entità solida e materiale: l’antico diritto germanico prevedeva che un servo, offeso da un uomo libero, potesse rivalersi sulla sua ombra, mentre sotto l’imperatore Massimiliano era incluso, tra le pene più aspre, l’assassinio rituale di un’ombra tramite vanghe. Plutarco, infine, riferisce che il re Bochoris d’Egitto, trovatosi a giudicare il caso di un uomo che aveva goduto dei favori di un’etera durante il sonno, stabilì che la somma pattuita venisse versata dal doppio del reo – l’ombra, appunto – agente nel sogno.

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Un’ombra come riflesso in grado d’agire indipendentemente dalla volontà, dunque, capace d’incarnare il lato oscuro, istintivo, pulsionale d’ogni uomo. Perdere l’ombra, in quest’accezione, o cederla ad altri, pur attraverso il dono d’un cammeo, uno scatto fotografico, un ritratto – a cui le popolazioni tribali, non a caso, si sottraggono – assume la sinistra valenza di una terribile perdita di coscienza o di controllo e, di conseguenza, può essere alla base del timore di morire o l’orrore d’impazzire. Orrore e timore più o meno esplicitati e riconosciuti, più o meno inconsci e striscianti, ravvisabili nel substrato delle etnie più disparate, abili nel trascendere le differenze culturali, oltrepassando i limiti – limiti così labili! – del Tempo e dello Spazio.

Winny Puhh

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I Winny Puhh sono una band proveniente dall’Estonia, il cui genere potrebbe essere definito come un misto di punk, heavy metal e follia pura. Nei loro show, sempre altamente teatrali, fanno uso di strumenti atipici (balalaika, banjo), di effetti speciali, make-up e costumi elaborati e assolutamente weird.

Pur essendo attivi dai primi anni ’90, soltanto oggi, grazie a YouTube, il mondo si è accorto di loro. Per farvi capire la portata spettacolare delle loro esibizioni, eccoli alle semifinali estone per la qualificazione all’Eurovision Song Contest 2013, con il loro pezzo Meiecundimees üks Korsakov läks eile Lätti.

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Purtroppo i Winny Puhh non si sono qualificati. Eppure è strano, visto che hanno scelto il loro nome (che significa, pensate un po’, Winnie The Pooh) proprio per piacere a grandi e piccini.

La Contessa sanguinaria

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Articolo a cura della nostra guestblogger Veronica Pagnani

Erzsébet Báthory nacque nel 1560 a Nyírbátor, nell’odierna Ungheria, ma trascorse i primi anni della sua infanzia nella proprietà di famiglia in Transilvania. Meglio nota come Contessa Dracula o Contessa Sanguinaria, è considerata la più feroce e famosa assassina seriale in Ungheria ed in Slovacchia, con un numero di vittime che oscillerebbe da 100 a 300, tra accertate e sospette. I testimoni vociferavano anche di un certo diario, appartenuto alla contessa, in cui sarebbero trascritti minuziosamente i nomi di ben 650 vittime, il che la renderebbe la più prolifica serial killer di sempre, anche se gli storici sono soliti sostenere la prima stima di circa 300 vittime. I crimini sarebbero tutti avvenuti fra il 1585 e il 1610.

Erzsébet proveniva dalla nobile famiglia dei Báthory-Ecsed, che poteva vantare nel suo albero genealogico vari eroi di guerra ed addirittura un re di Polonia; ma, anche a causa di vari matrimoni tra consanguinei, molti membri della casata portavano i segni evidenti di disturbi mentali e schizofrenia. La stessa Erzsébet, fin dall’età di sei anni, era solita passare da uno stato di quiete ad uno di folle collera, disordine alimentato anche dai numerosi episodi cruenti a cui era costretta, nonostante la sua giovane età, ad assistere. Vide un giorno dei soldati torturare uno zingaro colpevole di aver venduto i propri figli ai turchi; la condanna consisteva nel tagliare il ventre di un cavallo tenuto fermo tramite delle corde, inserire il condannato nel ventre del cavallo per poi ricucirlo. All’età di 13 anni, poi, incontrò un suo cugino, il principe di Transilvania, il quale davanti ai suoi occhi ordinò di tagliare naso e orecchie a 54 persone colpevoli di aver sostenuto una rivolta di contadini.

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Appena quindicenne sposò Ferenc Nádasdy, anch’egli nobile di nascita e d’indole violenta: il suo passatempo preferito consisteva nel torturare i servi senza però ucciderli, o cospargere di miele una ragazza nuda che veniva poi legata vicino alle arnie di sua proprietà. I due sposi si scambiarono alcune dritte sui metodi di tortura, e a quanto pare Erzsébet, che era ben acculturata sulle tecniche più efficaci, istigò il marito ad alcune feroci pratiche.

Essendo Nádasdy il più delle volte impegnato a combattere contro i turchi, Erzsébet cominciò a frequentare sua zia, la contessa Karla, e a partecipare alle orge da lei stessa organizzate. Nello stesso periodo conobbe Dorkò , una donna che assieme al suo servo Thorko incoraggiò le tendenze sadiche della contessa insegnandole la stregoneria.

Crescendo, sia Erzsébet che suo marito (di circa sei anni più grande di lei) cominciarono a sfogare tutta la loro collera e follia sui servi, i quali, dal canto loro, potevano fare ben poco per difendersi. Molti erano quelli che cercavano di fuggire, ma che spesso venivano recuperati per poi essere torturati selvaggiamente. Nessuna forma di umanità veniva mossa dai due nei confronti dei servi. Si racconta di una donna la quale si rifiutò un giorno di lavorare perché ammalata e i due sposi, sospettosi riguardo a questa presunta malattia, decisero di infilarle tra le dita dei pezzi di carta impregnati d’olio a cui fu poi dato fuoco. Da quel momento furono in pochi quelli che osarono ribellarsi alla loro follia.

In un giorno come tanti, dopo aver schiaffeggiato una serva, Erzsébet notò che, in un punto della sua mano, dove poco prima era caduta una goccia di sangue della poveretta, la sua pelle era come ringiovanita. Corse così immediatamente dagli alchimisti di corte per chiedere delucidazioni riguardo a questo episodio e questi, pur di compiacerla, le diedero ragione spiegandole che già da tempo era stato provato che il sangue delle vergini possedeva queste eccezionali qualità. La contessa si convinse, dunque, che fare abluzioni nel sangue delle vergini (o addirittura berlo) le avrebbe garantito un’eterna giovinezza.

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Per trovare le sue vittime, le quali avrebbero dovuto essere non solo giovani e belle, ma anche del suo stesso status sociale, Erzsèbet istituì nel suo castello un’accademia che, ufficialmente, aveva la funzione di educare le giovani provenienti da famiglie agiate. Col passare del tempo, e con l’aumentare del numero di denunce di scomparsa pervenute alla Chiesa Cattolica, l’imperatore Mattia II intervenne ordinando delle indagini sulla nobildonna. Gli inviati dell’imperatore, che entrarono di nascosto nel castello, colsero Erzsèbet sul fatto; nelle stanze e nelle prigioni vennero ritrovate decine di cadaveri in putrefazione recanti i segni della tortura, e altre ragazze ancora vive con gli arti amputati. A seguito di un rapido processo, Erzsèbet e i suoi fedeli, i quali si resero complici dei crimini efferati, vennero murati vivi nelle loro stanze, con un unico foro per ricevere il cibo, mentre Dorko fu bruciata sul rogo, dopo essere stata incriminata di stregoneria.

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Dopo quasi 500 anni, la storia di Erzsèbet è viva più che mai nei racconti e nelle leggende dell’est europeo, mentre, nel resto del mondo, la sua figura è associata il più delle volte a Vlad III Dracula, proveniente dalla Valacchia, anche se, dopo attenti studi sull’albero genealogico della contessa, di etnia magiara, non è mai stato scoperto alcun antenato romeno.

[Nota: Le penultime due immagini sono tratte da uno degli episodi del film Racconti Immorali (1974) di Walerian Borowczyk, che narra le gesta della contessa sanguinaria.]