12 Oct 2013

The Lions of Rome

Carlo Levi’s L’Orologio, Survival, and the Copresence of Times
The term ‘survival’, coming from E.B. Tylor’s anthropological writings, was translated by the German art historian Aby Warburg as ‘Nachleben’, and thus employed by him (as well as by his reader Walter Benjamin) as a device allowing an understanding of modernity in which antiquity survives in small, fleeting, and subtly uncanny details. The workshop The Lions of Rome reflects on Carlo Levi’s novel L’Orologio (1950) and its depiction of Rome’s cityscape as the space of such survival. We witness there what Calvino would later term la compresenza dei tempi, that is, the copresence of different regimens of historicity in the same urban space as facets of the same multi-layered and multistable dialectic image. From its very title, L’Orologio enacts a strong focus on temporality, depicting an image of Rome in which the roaring lions that belong to an undetermined sphere of ‘origin’ conjure up another kind of eternity, which can be described as the survival of a mythical, unconscious, pre-historical and pre-rational dimension. In the same way as Warburg’s and Benjamin’s intellectual experiences had eroded the Idealistic perception of history as a teleological continuum condemning the past to only return in the guise of a revival, Levi’s L’Orologio challenges Fascist Rome’s revivalist cityscape by depicting an urban network in which multiple spheres of time concurrently survive, and in which the sphere of ‘origin’ (Ur-) becomes obliquely manifest.


ICI Berlin
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Organized by

ICI Berlin
An ICI Event in collaboration with the AHRC-funded network Roman Modernities (University of Warwick-UCL)

In English

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Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: The Lions of Rome: Carlo Levi’s L’Orologio, Survival, and the Copresence of Times, workshop, ICI Berlin, 12 October 2013 <>