Edgar Morin

(1921), French philosopher and sociologist, the father of “complexity”

(1921), French philosopher and sociologist, the father of “complexity”, he wrote more than one foundamental books on the Method to see and interact in the world respecting COMPLEXITY. He worked mainly at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He has written many books dealing with school, learning, social interventions and our world. He has dedicated much of his work to the problems of a “thought reform”: a new knowledge that overcomes the separation of knowledge present in our era and is capable of educating educators in complex thinking.

Gianluca Bocchi: Morin was very attached to Berlin. What meaning did he give to it? He was born in 1921, for him Berlin originally meant the Weimar cinema, the UFA. For Morin as a child and teenager, cinema was an ancestral experience, it allowed him to take flights of imagination in defense of life’s adversities. He said that he had fallen in love with an actress of that period, Brigitte Helm, known above all because she played the role of the candid Maria and the evil and erotic soulless robot-woman in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). He also saw her in the role of the queen of the Amazons.
For him, Berlin was not the place of Nazi power and he did not realize how a Berlin that he had already loved as a young man could have become the seat of enemy power. When he arrived in Berlin in 1945 he held the myth of the city of Weimar, from before Nazism and the war. He found the city destroyed; he told me that he had found Hitler’s Chancellery still standing but completely ruined. He, then, had managed to enter the Chancellery because no one cared about the fate of that now so cursed place, and he had stolen documents signed by Adolf Hitler: victory over the enemy!
At the time he was also carrying out his first official assignment with the French occupation troops in Berlin. Then he returned to East Berlin a few years later to spend a few months when in France he was in the grip of considerable economic difficulties. His first book – L’an zéro de l’Allemagne (which was precisely about his experience in Berlin in 1945) – had been successful in East Berlin, and he had remained there, to live off the royalties, very lavishly compared to how he would have lived in Paris at the time. Then the funds ran out, Morin returned to Paris and, unemployed as he was, he began studying to write that fundamental book that is Homme et la mort.
In Berlin Morin lives in his worlds, very personal and intense.

About ten years ago Morin came to Berlin when I was there too, as I usually attend it and travel around it, and for this reason I know it very well. He lived at the Wissenschaft Kolleg, a very prominent institution in the city, which is located in a beautiful villa on a lake in a forest, and which programmatically hosts great intellectuals who want to do research or simply, like Morin then, spend some time in the city, giving in exchange their participation in conferences and seminars. At a certain point he ran out of his medication and asked for my help. In Germany they absolutely don’t give you drugs in the pharmacy without a prescription, I had to spend a lot of time finding a way to get a medical certificate, I went on a sort of treasure hunt also because the doctor was quite far from where I was and where Morin was ! He also asked me for help to find a good coffee, a coffee like they make in Italy: if he doesn’t have the coffee he likes, he doesn’t do anything he should do. In Rome, for example, his go-to bar is Sant’Eustachio and he is willing to delay a conference just to stop by and enjoy a good coffee there. In Berlin it was certainly more difficult to find Italian coffee. I worked hard, I found him and even this “whim” of his was fulfilled.
The third wish concerned the possibility of finding the grave of the philosopher Hegel. The cemeteries in Berlin are special. There is a very large cemetery in the south-west part of the city, but many famous people are buried in small cemeteries connected to churches, often in the centre. Hegel is in one of these graves, buried in front of the philosopher Fichte and in front of the tomb of Bertolt Brecht, near the playwright’s house in the center. Having identified the cemetery, we go together to look for the grave, Morin is happy. We arrive at the cemetery and cannot immediately locate the place we were looking for: obsessed we went from one to the other in search of that of Hegel, the founding father. Meanwhile the guardian looked at us very suspiciously.

I know Morin as a very humble and easy-going person, on the other hand he is also proud and authoritative. He has always been immoderate. In Berlin for example, he wanted on principle to go up to the second floor of the bus – buses are often double-decker – despite all the ailments of his age. He was already 90 years old but this undertaking was imperative.
He has always been extreme, even in eating (when he could and wanted; then during the periods of writing his books Morin can also be very rigorous). Even at 80 years old he forgot he was 80 years old, and he had terrible indigestion, without knowing how to control it. Once we were in Naples, where he has a psychoanalyst friend, daughter of Jeanne Carola Francesconi, who wrote and published the great cookbook of Neapolitan cuisine, a sort of Neapolitan Artusi, placing it on the level of the great national cuisines (as if to say that the Kingdom of Naples had nothing to envy of the great French cuisine!). Once a friend invites us to dinner. We were Edgar, Mauro Ceruti, me, Oscar Nicolaus and (I think) Sergio Manghi. We arrive in a beautiful Neapolitan house and smell heavenly scents. Too bad that Morin gets a pang in his liver, so he asks with great regret to be able to leave. “You can stay” he tells us. We considered it rude to be left without the person who had brought us with him, but we still regret that sumptuous meal!

Morin has a real trip for aubergines which he considers the Mediterranean dish par excellence, which reminds him of his Thessaloniki origins. In France, aubergines exist but they are not honored as much as he would like. This is why he chose Naples as the place of aubergines, so every time he goes or we go together to Naples we go to the most typical restaurants for this food. We have also created an association – a bit joking – “The Purple Thing“, which unites us. The apotheosis was when a friend of Oscar Nicolaus organized eight/nine courses, all of aubergines. It was an important, dense ritual! I remember Edgar saying: “For the first time in my life I feel at least temporarily full of aubergines!”. He even wrote about it.



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