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Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Italian Way of "Give it Away"

La Gradisca

Now that the abnormal behaviour of the human male - especially if powerful and internationally renowned - has become a global political issue, it is important that nations share their insights on how this strange species, the male, reasons and acts. A first cue may come from examining his language. Take the Italian case. One cannot deeply understand the Italian male without a closer inspection of a basic expression that characterizes his talk: Give IT Away. Each time the Italian male faces a specimen of the other sex, the female, especially in work settings, his first legitimate question is: “The lady in front of me must have given it away to someone in order to deserve her job”. For example, I write articles for the cultural supplement of an Italian newspaper. As an online comment on one of my first contributions about the destiny of French philosophy, I have received the following question: Miss, could you please let me know whom did you give it away to in order to obtain the job at the newspaper?

Now, the reader may wonder what the mysterious it of the expression refers to. The Italian original version of the expression is Darla via, which is easier to interpret, given that the pronoun la attached to the verb dare (to give) has a feminine inflexion. The mysterious it thus refers to the sexual female organ, the vagina, given away, according to the Italians, usually in exchange of some favour. And here is the paradox of the expression: To give away evokes the release of a free act, a freeing from an obligatory economic exchange. “Give away economy” refers today to a disinterested way of distributing goods, especially software, in which the giver doesn’t expect anything in exchange. But the disinterested sexual economy evoked by the expression: Darla via doesn’t exist in the mentality of the Italian human male: women don’t give it away, rather, they give it in exchange of some favours: money, jobs, career upgrades, etc.

The contradiction may be explained by a fundamental ambiguity that the Italian male attributes to the Italian female: on the one hand, women are like pitiful Madonnas, who give away the best part of themselves just for compassion, as an act of pure love. The emblematic character that embodies this imaginary generous female is the Gradisca in the Fellini’s autobiographical movie Amarcord. Gradisca, the village beauty, just kindly offers herself and fuels the dreams of the young men of, usually forbidden and affordable at last, sexual pleasures. On the other hand, the man who indulges in the warm pleasure of the reassuring Madonna, wakes up abruptely from his dream to face a frightening whore, the Puttana, who actually was not generous and loving, but was asking for something in exchange.

So, the Give away economy of Italian sexual life is a betrayal, according to the male: women just bewitch men with their Mediterranean spell and then end up with the usual demands.

Darla via is a central expression of the Italian way of thinking. Travellers to Italy, as well as diplomats should be aware of it in order to understand the phenomenology of the Italian everyday life.