The Idiot, the editorial by Franco Michienzi

Do you remember Dostoevsky’s famous novel? I often get the impression that our rulers consider us Prince Myshkin

by Francesco Michienzi

I went to the port of Mergellina in Naples to try out a boat. This southern Italian bay is a perfect place to reflect in complete tranquillity. As I looked around me, amidst all kinds of boats, particularly badly assembled wooden jetties and equipment huts on the small adjacent beach, I thought of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky and his famous novel. “There are also those who think I am an idiot; I have never found out why. In truth, I have been so ill that I am not much different from an idiot; but how is it possible that I am an idiot even now, when, for example, I realise that people think I am an idiot? I come in and think: they think I’m an idiot, but I’m intelligent, and they don’t even suspect it”.I believe that the administrators of Italy, the Campania region and the city of Naples think, have thought and still think that we are real idiots. The area between Mergellina and Via Caracciolo, with all its chalets and the harbour, is one of the most beautiful parts of the city.

THE SITUATION OF THE PORT OF MERGELLINA HAS REMAINED UNCHANGED FOR HALF A CENTURY. THERE IS STRONG RESISTANCE TO ANY REAL ETHICAL AND STRUCTURAL REDEVELOPMENT.

At the moment, the marina is a landing place with about 1.5 kilometres of dilapidated quays and precarious mobile jetties, for a total of almost 500 berths. From time to time, the Carabinieri or the Coast Guard come to inspect boats and confiscate some of the jetties in the marina. About ten years ago, the police intervened as part of an investigation coordinated by the Neapolitan Public Prosecutor’s Office. The suspicion raised by the investigators concerned the alleged presence among the licence holders of people with criminal records who were not allowed to carry out this activity. The investigation also revealed that some of the jetty operators had occupied part of the area of the jetties where the hydrofoils docked. We do not know the outcome of the investigation and the seizure of the jetties, but what we do know is that this is a clear example of malpractice leading to decay. Many have tried to propose solutions in words. In the early 2000s, the then Regional Councillor for Transport stated that the priorities were structural reform of ports and competition. All the other politicians, including governors, mayors and ministers, also have the solution in their pockets, to the tune of millions allocated and never spent. Spectacular projects and lunar studies have never docked in the Gulf of Naples.

Returning to myself, for a moment the protagonist of Dostoevsky’s novel, I imagined moving the ferries and hydrofoils to Molo Beverello, where a single departure point for the islands could be created, replacing the piles of Darwinian memory with modern, well-equipped floating piers, getting rid of the ramshackle huts on the beach, using the ferry docks to moor dozens of superyachts and transforming Naples and Mergellina into the Italian Saint Tropez. 

PRINCE LEV NIKOLAYEVICH MYSHKIN CAME TO PROCLAIM HIS TRUTH AS AN “IDIOT”, OVERTURNING THE TRADITIONAL OPPOSITIONS OF GOOD AND EVIL, LOVE AND HATE, AND ASSERTING HIS NEW LAW: THAT OF COMPASSION AND ACCEPTANCE OF ONE’S NEIGHBOUR.

Of course, it would help if all the honest operators could come together to take over the area under licence and form a consortium to manage the Marina di Mergellina and provide a service that meets the needs of modern boat owners. The dilapidation would disappear and the restaurants and boutiques of Via Caracciolo would become world-famous. Achieving this would require vision and political skill that I see nowhere on the horizon. All I see is Prince Myshkin, who, after several years in a Swiss sanatorium, returns to Russia to claim an inheritance and be among the people. In St Petersburg, the prince finds himself an outsider in a society obsessed with money, power and manipulation. The scandal escalates to murder as Dostoevsky traces the surprising effect of this decidedly handsome man on those around him, leading to a final scene that is one of the most powerful in world literature. The degeneracy described by Dostoevsky is not the same as that of our politicians, but the obsession with power, money and manipulation of us unwitting idiots certainly is.

(The Idiot – Barchemagazine.com – June 2024)