This book combines Regis Debray's "Against Venice" with an essay by Debray scholar Philip Wohlstetter called "Cicero in Venice."
The Debray essay is funny, scathing, and sarcastic. He sees Venice as a Disneyland of high culture for tourists. Fewer and fewer people live in Venice (who could?), yet the city sees an infinite stream of cathedral-gazers and museum-goers. Debray mocks the stranger "mad about Venice" (is that so bad?) as the "idiot of Venice." This Debray-- what a sweetie. Venice compares unfavorably, writes Debray, to Naples. You read that right. Naples. What is left to write? Islands are suitable for autists, he writes, and feature "cheap treats." Come again? Debray seemingly swings like a blind drunken boxer, but much of his invective actually hits the intended mark. (A boxer fighting a mannequin, no less, because Venice of course mutely absorbs the blows...)
Lashing out at Venice, Debray writes, "We, ourselves, float on a platform of references..." This could describe "Anti-Venice" as well. Word for word, Debray drops references like Hansel and Gretel drop bread crumbs. Proust. Malraux. Piazza San Marco. San Gennaro. Boucourechliev. Carpaccio. St. Jerome. San Giorgio deli Schiavoni. These are but some of the names gleaned from a pair of facing pages. In other words, the casual reader should keep reference materials handy.
Wohlstetter's essay puts Debray's life and work in a historical context, and surpasses "Against Venice" in clarity and worth, at least for one reader. Debray was an associate of Mitterand, Castro, and Allende. Wohlstetter wrote an essay to introduce Debray to the non-specialist, and to pique interest in Debray's other works. The passages about Debray's political philosophy are fascinating, and I shall seek out more books on Debray's philosophy, or by Debray on this subject. What an incredible life Debray must have led, as advisor to these leaders. Let "Cicero in Venice" serve as our introduction to Debray's other works, both his non-fiction and his novels.