mishearing / not symbolic: diabolic

An outtake from En abîme that didn’t find its way into the book:

As a child in Italy in the seventies, I had to sit in church through mass every Sunday. Listening to half-muttered formulas I could not relate to. An obscure jargon of power. Even worse in my father’s village in the South, where mass was still celebrated in Latin, and where old and middle-aged women (the church crowd consisted mostly of women. The men waited in the bar outside, they drank beer and played cards) shrieked their assumed faith in out-of-tune melodies, mocking a routine passed on from generation to generation and emptied of any meaning, showing off, mocking and showing, mocking and showing, their cheeks like big red balloons and their cries, as if they could only reach their god by singing in a pitch higher, and higher, and higher. The higher you sing, the more you believe.
As a child, mishearing was the only way through those interminable, exaggerated, unbearable chants. Benedicimus Deum (let’s bless God) became in those womens’ voices and in my understanding, Benedici Musdè (bless Musdè – sounding to my ears like an exotic pagan divinity). Noi siamo indegni e rei (We are unworthy and guilty) became Noi siamo indegni Ebrei (We are unworthy Jews – what a riddle). Sanctorum omnium (of all the saints) became Santo r’mmonio (in the local dialect: holy devil).
Carmelo Bene was right: liberated from text to speech, words are no longer symbolic: they can be diabolic.

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