Salvatore Settis, the author of If Venice Dies, will speak at 7 p.m. today at Brown University’s Rhode Island Hall. That’s the stucco Greek Revival building facing the main campus green from just south of University Hall. I am about halfway through Settis’s book, published by New Vessel Press, and I must say that (so far) it is a tour de force. I don’t expect a surprise ending will ruin it for me. His erudition and mastery of the history of architecture, and his selection of quotations, is imposing. I’ve already come across many passages of his own prose (translated from Italian into English by André Naffis-Sahely) and prose he quotes that I would love to pop into my own newly finished book Lost Providence, due out in April from History Press. Maybe I’ll be able to swing some of that. Suffice it to say that hearing him this evening should be a joy. The passion of Settis’s argument rises with each chapter. Here is a choice passage:
A paradoxical continuum runs through this and other Venetian metamorphoses: that the city’s uniqueness is a thorn in the side of a two-bit modernity, the prime example of a stale and intolerable forma urbis, whose mere survival is a provocative challenge that must be met, forcing Venice to assimilate until it looks like any other city.
Here is a summary of the lecture, which is free and open to the public, and some sponsorship details from Brown:
What is Venice worth? To whom does this urban treasure belong? Internationally renowned art historian Salvatore Settis urgently poses these questions, igniting a new debate about the Pearl of the Adriatic and cultural patrimony at large. Venetians are increasingly abandoning their hometown—there’s now only one resident for every 140 visitors—and Venice’s fragile fate has become emblematic of the future of historic cities everywhere as it capitulates to tourists and those who profit from them. In If Venice Dies, a fiery blend of history and cultural analysis, Settis argues that “hit-and-run” visitors are turning landmark urban settings into shopping malls and theme parks. He warns that Western civilization’s prime achievements face impending ruin from mass tourism and global cultural homogenization. This is a passionate plea to secure the soul of Venice, written with consummate authority, wide-ranging erudition and élan.
Salvatore Settis is chairman of the Louvre Museum’s Scientific Council and former director of the Getty Research Institute of Los Angeles and the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa.
Co-sponsored by Brown University’s Departments of Italian Studies and History of Art and Architecture, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, and Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research.