The death of the Italian essayist Nuccio Ordine, militant humanist and committed pedagogue

Nuccio Ordine, in September 2014.

Undoubtedly one of the most widely read Italian essayists in the world, distinguished in May by the Princess of Asturias 2023 prize, in the field of human sciences (Haruki Murakami, Meryl Streep and Hélène Carrère d’Encausse appearing on the same list), Nuccio Ordine will be able to collect his award this fall. Victim of a stroke, he died suddenly at the Annunziata hospital in Cosenza (Calabria), on June 10, at the age of 64.

As much as a scholar of impeccable rigor, this masterly scholar, with clear words and clear thought, was a pedagogue committed to the defense of the teaching profession, embodying a flamboyant ideal of humanism for the present time. Nothing predisposed him to it.

Born on July 18, 1958, in Diamante, a coastal town in the province of Cosenza, in the northwest of Calabria, he grew up in a neglected Mezzogiorno where the horizon is limited. If his parents only knew elementary school, his father dreams of being a lawyer. In a village without a bookshop or library, the way is narrow, but the teacher, who teaches at home, makes little Nuccio’s most precious gift: that of reading. An addiction that will never leave him. After high school – the teenager is a boarder there –, here he is studying in Cosenza. Just created (1972), the University of Calabria exempts locals from expatriating to Naples or Rome, and offers young unemployed teachers an unexpected springboard.

Communicative flame

No doubt this gives the place an intellectual and political animation that marks the young Nuccio. This one militates soon in a collective student-worker, then with the organization of “left extraparliamentary” Lotta continued. But, refusing the armed struggle, he finds himself isolated. Like the Dominican monk and philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), martyr of free thought, whose message deemed heretical (he was to be burned alive) seemed to him the most just and who, therefore, serves as a model.

As soon as he defended his thesis, “Asinus ad litteras. Literature of the donkey in the 16th centurye century”, directed by Giulio Ferroni, Nuccio Ordine undertook a doctorate in literary sciences: rhetoric and interpretation techniques, still in Cosenza. If the pantheon of the young researcher is becoming clearer, as evidenced by his first publications, particularly on Giordano Bruno (La Cabala dell’asino, published in Naples in 1987), its future remains unclear. No positions in sight.

Everything changed when, in Paris, he met Alain-Philippe Segonds (1942-2011), director of the prestigious publishing house Les Belles Lettres, who was enthusiastic about the young man’s energy and communicative flame. Hence the crazy project of offering for the first time a complete critical edition of the Italian and Latin texts of Giordano Bruno. Co-directed with Yves Hersant, the project, which aims to celebrate 400 years of the philosopher’s torment, delivers its real meaning from the first publications, in 1993: to affirm the presence of a thought and a commitment of an intact vitality.

Focus on the teacher-student bond

The three essays that Nuccio Ordine delivers on the heretical philosopher (The mystery of the donkeytranslated from 1993, The Threshold of Shadow (Les Belles Lettres, 2003) and Giordano Bruno, Ronsard and religion (Albin Michel, 2004)), if they prepare Three crowns for a king. The motto of Henry III and its mysteries (Les Belles Lettres, 2011), tremendous immersion in the debates of the time, do not distract Ordine from his assiduous frequentation of the classics.

Like Vladimir Nabokov and George Steiner, his models in literary criticism, he is convinced that great texts always deliver an essential lesson. Nuccio Ordine dispenses a hymn to fraternity and a eulogy of the common good through reasoned anthologies which are so many manifestos to eradicate populism, thwart separatism, share the social place and universal knowledge: The usefulness of the useless (2013) to success stupefying (twenty-four translations for thirty-five countries), A year with the classics (2015) and finally Men are not islands (2018), whose title is borrowed from a meditation by British poet John Donne.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Nuccio Ordine, professor of the useless

Because the militant humanist has never yielded anything of his requirement. He who, in the name of knowledge recognized as unique, was invited to teach in France (ENS, EHESS, Paris-IV and Institut universitaire de France in particular), in the United Kingdom (Institut Warburg), in Germany (Institut Max -Planck of Berlin), as in the United States (Yale, NYU) and in Latin America (Bogota, Mexico), never left Cosenza and the University of Calabria, preserving a semester to teach in the very place where his journey has begun.

Loyalty to its origins as well as to its vocation: to teach and bet on the teacher-student bond that defines university commitment. Hence his invigorating crusade for knowledge, the only viaticum to make man better, his solidarity with his friend Roberto Saviano confronting the “entrepreneurs of fear” and his defense of the teaching of culture against the utilitarian logic that entrusts bankers with running universities, managed like businesses.

For Yves Hersant, who shared more than three decades with Belles Lettres in the editorial commitment of the Calabrian scholar, Nuccio Ordine “will have been the rare incarnation, in the academic world and in the world at large, of the virtu stendhalian. That is to say, energy, both intellectual and physical, put at the service of the hunt for happiness..

Nuccio Ordine in a few dates

July 18, 1958 Born in Diamante (Calabria), Italy

1993 Undertakes the complete critical co-edition of the Italian and Latin texts of Giordano Bruno

2013 The utility of the useless, manifest (The Beautiful Letters)

2015 Co-founds with Umberto Eco the Milanese publishing house La Nave di Teseo

2022 George Steiner, the unwelcome guest (The Beautiful Letters)

June 10, 2023 Died in Cosenza (Calabria), Italy

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