Books: “Giving the finger” — and no, not at a Board of Public Works meeting.


Kudos to the Indiana University Press, because this long overdue translation of a study of gesture is far better cause for celebration than a mere IU basketball game. It reminds me of being in Italy and seeing people communicate with hands in addition to words.

Incidentally, the author’s mention of Luigi Barzini’s classic book The Italians reminds me of the “mut read” stature it once enjoyed. During the 1970s and 1980s, travelers to Italy always were advised to read The Italians before leaving home.

I’ve a strong suspicion that the wisdom of this recommendation still holds true, even 50 years after publication, and so I’ll reread Barzini before we visit Sicily this autumn.

As for the gestures, maybe only one or two, just in case …

Giving the finger at The Economist

GESTURE IN NAPLES AND GESTURE IN CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY, by Andrea de Jori; translated by Adam Kendon … Indiana University Press; 632 pages; $49.95 and £34

A MAN and a woman are talking on a bus in Naples. All of a sudden, the man raises his hand, draws together his fingertips, lifts them to his lips and appears either to spit on them or to give them a kiss before pointing them at the woman. How to know whether his intentions are noble or base, romantic or murderous—spitting on one’s fingertips being the second most deadly insult in Naples after spitting directly in your face?

The answer may well be found in Andrea de Jorio’s extraordinary volume, “Gesture in Naples and Gesture in Classical Antiquity”, now finally translated into English almost 170 years after it was first published …

 … In modern times, Luigi Barzini was the writer who did most to put out the word on de Jorio and his classic. In “The Italians” (1964), Barzini described “Gesture in Naples” as a gem, though one so difficult to obtain that he had to resort to purloining a copy from an unsuspecting English gentleman. Thanks to a fine translation by Adam Kendon, an anthropologist who has studied aboriginal sign language—and to the imagination of Indiana University Press—thefts of this kind will no longer be needed.