In the book The Lobster Dilemma. The strength of vulnerability”, Published by Meltemi, De Matteis studies and analyzes the theme of vulnerability from an anthropological point of view, seeing in it a resource for the individual. He continues in an original way, through the metaphorical image of the lobster.

The latter lives a condition of vulnerability in the face of reality, as it is born in nudity. The carapace of her that surrounds her grows later only to be rejected because she will become a prison, as she will never conform to the change of the body that transforms. Thus, therefore, it is a question of a return and a rejection, normalized according to nature, which leads the lobster to continuous transitions of status in the face of extreme situations.

Lobster is a mythopoeic image of the individual. An image that explains how the individual, in his becoming, must continually criticize his own condition by transforming and adapting himself to the new condition he will live. A comparison that functionalizes the eternal dilemma of the lobster and that in De Matteis’s perspective becomes a way to explain how man, in any context he finds himself, can always find a way to remodel himself in order to readjust himself.

Through this image man, for the author, is transformed into a sort of Nietzschano superman who, through his will to power, manages to make extreme situations a resource for remodeling himself, rising above a normalized condition. But in addition to highlighting how the individual possesses the ability to re-functionalize himself, he – from the author’s point of view – overcoming a condition of vulnerability also crosses a real limit.

According to De Matteis, in fact, in the face of extreme situations, man crosses a threshold and by implementing this passage he transforms becoming functional to the scheme of values ​​with which he encounters. In this sense, De Matteis’s book contextualizes the anthropological concept of “rite of passage”, inserting the dimension of vulnerability at this juncture in which in the passage one is vulnerable as individuals but in existential coherence with the idea of ​​change.

The text represents a heterogeneous volume as there are various conceptual points of reference that are used as metaphors of the individual’s living conditions. But a theme that returns can also be seen in the relationship that is described by the author between the individual and his cultural homeland. Understanding by the latter the cultural and identity dimension in which one is born and grows up.

The text is structured like a diary that tells the dynamics in which De Matteis found himself and in which it was possible to find aspects of the behavior of individuals that made the naturalized behavior of the lobster functional. However, the relationship between the individual and the cultural homeland returns in various forms. It is as if one approached this relationship from a completely opposite point of view. From a point of view that sees in the cultural homeland of the individual an always clear memory, which nourishes the individual identity and which acts as a “form of resistance” to the diversity in which one is placed. A condition that sees the individual continually dialogue and conflict with his own identity origins.

The globalized world is built on the basis of a cultural heterogeneity that makes the individual something potentially and continuously uprooted. De Matteis, through the life stories he tells, highlights this crucial aspect to outline some peculiarities of today’s world. The issue of uprooting is not only observed as a consequence of being stateless citizens of the world which, on the basis of a work placement or a specific socio-political condition of the country of origin.

Uprooting is also a condition that comes out of an interior dimension in which we stop thinking of ourselves as part of a community and we stop talking to each other. This is the other crucial aspect of the text. The absence of the will to abandon one’s identity dimension in order not to open up to the other. The other aspect of the lobster metaphor unravels on this concept, namely its loss of armor (the carapace) and reflecting on itself in the face of the new status of nudity. The lobster without its shell is vulnerable, it has no protection. Therefore, this means – from the point of view of self-reflexivity – that vulnerability, in addition to being a resource for re-functionalizing oneself, becomes a space in which to carry out an inner dialogue and reflect.

As for the lobster, everything happens according to the mechanics of nature; as regards the individual, on the other hand, the author proposes the path of auto-anthropology. That is, a particular form of reflection on the self, which leads the individual to free himself of his own armor and security, to expose himself to the risk of change and open up to the other.

Maurilio Ginex

Stefano De Matteis, The Lobster DilemmaMeltemi publisher

Image: Hozan-Articulated Lobster. Full-size ivory lobster finely carved in details with contrasting patinas on the rough and smooth surface. Entirely articulated, the antennas and the central body move, realistically worked and decorated in colors to simulate the natural reality of the crustacean. Signed Hozan within square reserve under the tail. Origin: Japan. Period: Meiji second mid 19th century Dimensions: open: 34 x 32 x 5 cm. closed: 21 x 15 x 5 cm.

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