Recollecting Diego Fabbri’s Trial of Western Civilization "Crucify Him" by Mihály Munkácsy

D
iego Fabbri's existential theater, passionately committed to the exploration of the human condition and the spirit of the age, is all but forgotten nowadays. That is unfortunate, for the theatrical production of Diego Fabbri (especially his summa: "Jesus on Trial") is still today as we speak, vitally relevant to post-modern Man's self-knowledge, and the rediscovery of the cultural identity of Western civilization.

Some time ago, I translated from the Italian into English the play Processo a Gesù [Jesus on Trial] which has since been published. Nevertheless, Fabbri, at least abroad, remains a rather obscure author. The play was originally performed in Milan on March 2, 1955.

One may initially think that it is a mere recreation of the Passion of Christ, but that would be a rather mistaken notion. It is that, but it is also more than that. More than recreating the passion it is interested in reformulating the ancient question of Pilate to Christ: What is Truth? thus introducing post-modern man to the vital issue of human existence and the very meaning of one’s life.

It might be hard to believe it now, but in the 50s and 60s Fabbri became better known than Pirandello, not only in Italy but also abroad. At that time his above mentioned play was performed in Germany, Sweden, Austria, the USA, France, England, Spain, Australia, even Japan; it was eventually made into a movie in Spain. He was truly an author without borders. However, despite this early popularity Fabbri seems to have been all but neglected. That is too bad, for his opus is even more relevant today to the predicaments of Western Civilization than sixty years ago.

The reason that is so is that Fabbri is one of those rare modern dramatists who, like Pirandello, is concerned with philosophical-ethical issues relating to the existential universal human condition. Some of his other plays are The Seducer, The Liar, Inquisition and Portrait of an Unknown. The mere titles of these plays hint at Fabbri's existential concerns. He was the kind of author who in Italian goes under the name of "impegnato" [committed]. Indeed, he was committed to what is True, Good and Beautiful.

The classical authors who greatly influenced Fabbri, as he himself revealed in his book of essays titled Christian Ambiguity (1954), are Dostoevsky, Cechov, Pirandello, Brecht, Plato, St. Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Rilke, Berdiaev, Manzoni, as well as the contemporary French authors he was reading at the time the play made its debut: Andre Gide, Maurice Blondel, Jacques Riviere, Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, Georges Bernanos, Francois Mauriac, Julien Green, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier. The list would be enough to persuade anybody that Fabbri is not an esoteric elitist intellectual, the sort that abounds in academia (of either classical or modern tradition); on the contrary, he speaks the language of everyman and is concerned with the problems of everyman.

The protagonists of his drama are mostly ordinary people who struggle with the great issues, "prosecuting charges," indictments, and ultimate problems of the human condition and destiny as lived today by post-modern Man who the more he distances himself from God, the more he feels Her/His absence, the more he searches for Her/Him through the labyrinthine byways of the spirit. In this respect, Jesus on Trial can be considered Fabbri's Summa.

And what pray is this play all about? It is really a modern trial, an in absentia trial of Jesus and to a certain extent of the ancient Jewish people by modern Jews. Paradoxically, as the trial progresses, we come to realize that it is in reality the trial of a decadent technological rationalistic civilization against itself; that is to say, the trial of a civilization that has lost the ability to hope in the future and to conceive salvation and redemption of any kind, a civilization , stuck in the horizontal (the immanent) and devoid of the vertical (the transcendent), unable to conceive the two together as "both-and," often given to apocalyptic scenarios of its own future destiny. The play had that powerful effect on me personally as I translated it.

Behind this bleak assessment by Fabbri of the modern social phenomenon, there is Charles Péguy, an author who influenced Fabbri more than any other, and who wrote that "Christianity is a life lived together so that we may save ourselves together."

After reading the play one realizes that indeed while Pirandello is Fabbri's artistic inspiration, Charles Péguy is Fabbri's spiritual inspiration for the conception of an authentically classical Christian society: a society that finds its "raison d'etre" in communion and solidarity and is thus alone able to free Man from that deep solitude of spirit described by Vico as "the barbarism of the intellect," a solitude and despair afflicting post-modern Man in the third rationalistic positivist cycle of Vico’s ideal eternal history.

As far as dramatic techniques are concerned Pirandello is undoubtedly present, behind the curtain, so to speak. He is there for the fundamental emotions and conflicts which are explored, for the conception of dialogue as a search for identity and truth, and for the stage returned to its original classical function of authentic place of drama, almost another protagonist. It was in fact this Pirandellian inspiration and conception of the drama as advertised by Fabbri that led to the rediscovery of Pirandello in Italy and abroad and which explains his popularity at a par with Pirandello.

Fabbri's theater flows naturally into film. In the 60s and 70s he wrote manuscripts for the RAI Television which includes, among others, novels by Silone's among which Il Segreto di Luca (Silone, in fact has many affinities to Fabrri), Greene's The End of the Affair, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov and The Devils. However, Fabbri is no Silone or Dostoevsky, he remains uniquely himself hard to subsume under any other director. If one were to search for a kindred spirit to Fabbri among modern film directors, it would not be Fellini of Satyricon, but Bergman of The Seventh Seal.

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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