115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mafia, Ecology of Mind, and Play Ethic in Per questo mi chiamo Giovanni

Evelyn Ferraro, Santa Clara University

This paper provides an ecocritical reading of Garlando’s 2004 novel Per questo mi chiamo Giovanni, a biographical account of Giovanni Falcone that is meant to inform and raise awareness around mafia and practices of civic responsibility in the new generations. My approach to this text will come from literary ecology, through notions of ecology of mind, play ethic and the “ecological” differences between tragedy and comedy.   


This year marks the 25th anniversary of two spectacularly brutal mafia events that are still vivid in the minds of many Italians, and especially Sicilians. Between May and July 1992, in two separate instances that came to be known as the “strage di Capaci” and the “strage di via d’Amelio” (named after the sites of the attacks in and near the city of Palermo), judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, along with Falcone’s wife and eight escorting officers lost their lives to the hands of Cosa Nostra. For the past twenty-five years, the personal stories and endeavors of Falcone and Borsellino have been memorialized and popularized in various ways, venues and media (TV series, films, literary works, peaceful marches, educational projects, renaming of public spaces, etc.). Strenuously committed to their investigations, the two colleagues and friends “giudici antimafia” are held as national heroes and symbols of legality within a country that, crucially in 1992 and to this day, struggles with widespread corruption and illegality. Falcone famously stated: "Gli uomini passano, le idee restano. Restano le loro tensioni morali e continuano a camminare sulle gambe di altri uomini." How ideas outlive, are stored and storied from one generation to the next in ways that resonate and interact with new ideas and environments is the subject of this paper.

 Following the literary ecology’s tenet that literature and the world are ecologically interdependent (the world acts on literature but also literary works have the potential to act on the world), this paper will analyze Luigi Garlando’s 2004 novel Per questo mi chiamo Giovanni, a book popular among young readers in Italy. Inspired by the specific purpose of informing and raising awareness around mafia, mafioso behaviors, and practices of civic responsibility in the new generations, the novel offers a biographical account of Giovanni Falcone as passed down from a father to his child Giovanni on his tenth birthday. Reflecting the interconnection of ideas and place, the unfolding narrative of the judge’s life and war on mafia is mapped out on the territory of Palermo mirroring the father and son’s stops at key places across the city. As the chapter titles suggest, the storytelling makes use of several metaphors, often drawn from the natural world, to explain mafia in a concrete and direct language that appeals to a child’s imagination.

 In my textual analysis, I will rely on philosopher Serenella Iovino’s ecocritical interpretations of Gregory Bateson’s “ecology of mind” and Joseph Meeker’s “play ethic” to explore questions such as: How do ideas and environment interact in Garlando’s story? What kind of ecological awareness emerges from it? And how does the relationship between comedy and tragedy play out in it? If literature that enables us to play with the world is at once a pedagogical tool and an evolution strategy, what does an ecological evolution strategy look like for a young listener in the twenty-first century? Where lies its strength and vulnerability? Moving from the narrative context of the book to our present day, I will finally imagine Giovanni in today’s Palermo, and conclude by connecting the collaborative process between humanity and environment that underpins “play ethic” with processes of regeneration and urban renovation that are currently reshaping the Sicilian capital.