Scholars from around the world will gather at UCLA today for a three-day conference on invective called "Savage Words: Invective as a Literary Genre." How appropriate. There's a twisted logic buried in the notion of holding an academic conference about insults in a city that few have a kind word for.
Organized by UCLA's Massimo Ciavolella, Professor of Comparative Literature and Italian, and Gianluca Rizzo, Ph.D. candidate, the conference grew out of discussions between Dr. Ciavolella and his colleague, Dr. Kirstie McClure, about the decline in well-crafted vilification. He attributes this incivility disability to the decline in critical writing. Dr. Ciavolella agrees that the rhetorical tool is the victim of the Internet Age. "The Internet hinders the genre, " he says, "Everything goes so fast, there's no space [to savor a well turned put down] in public. Every thing is an insult and there's so much of it at the same time that it drowns out, floods the culture, diluting the sting, especially of political invective." Dr. McClure will address this problem directly in her talk, "Democracies, Discipline and the End of Invective," on Saturday afternoon.
As participants will show, verbal vituperation once flourished on the streets and the salons of the ancient world, early modern Europe and beyond. Dr. Ciavolella urges readers to consult the works of Petrarch and Ben Jonson for stellar examples of the age. Fans of contemporary philosophy should get a kick out of hearing Remo Bodei, Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Pisa and Professor in Residence at UCLA, take on "The Righteous Wrath." He's a star of the Modena Philosophy Festival which attracts 100,000 visitors each year.
While Professor Ciavolella agrees that it is hard to imagine that happening in Los Angeles, he has no harsh words for our crazy, dysfunctional city. "I can't say anything bad about L.A., " he demurs, "I love this city. It is a city always on the edge of disaster, fascinating. I don't have invective for it, though the political class of the city and state deserves invective, especially those more interested in their own interests than the welfare of the area."