Mafia Boss – The Tractor –

Bernardo Provenzano, head of the Sicilian mafia.

A master of reinvention he has been known variously as The Tractor, The Accountant, Uncle Bernie and The Axe Man.

They said he had the brains of a chicken but could shoot like an angel. He passed his orders on in the form of pizzi, messages written on small scraps of paper written in the style of religious scripture. He wore 3 silver crucifixes and constantly read the bible.

For 43 years he was a fugitive from the police, or were they hiding from him?


Cid_Opera_4The Tractor by Cid Andrenelli


About cid andrenelli

writer and artist
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3 Responses to Mafia Boss – The Tractor –

  1. My, you are very talented, Cid. Love this site.

  2. Ivor Pop says:

    Everything you wanted to know about Bernardo Provenzano but were too afraid to ask the Mafia

    Pope Francis’ condemnation of the mafia’s “adoration of evil” at a mass in Calabria, the southern Italian base of the Ndrangheta crime syndicate is by no means the first such condemnation. Following the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano the Bishop of Catanzaro issued a statement to the effect that members of the mafia in his diocese will be excommunicated. While not wanting to suggest otherwise, the arrest of Provenzano in 2006 threw up a series of contradictions that arguably encourage us to confront the shock of our own hidden presuppositions and disavowed truths.
    That Provenzano remained a fugitive for almost half a century remains impressive; still more so given the location of his hideaway: the village of Corleone, the hideaway of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, the most famous of all Mafia movies (is this not a case apropos Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter of hiding in full view, the mechanism of the unconscious?). Yet arguably what was so compelling about his arrest were the accompanying photos of his hideaway: a sparse shepherd’s cottage and outhouse furnished with bales of straw, a broken table, and makeshift chairs. Indeed, the most advanced piece of equipment was his Brother electronic typewriter on which he fashioned his coded messages, and an old television recently acquired to follow the Italian election. Despite being worth an estimated six hundred million euro, Provenzano lived the life of an ascetic. Dressed in the attire of a shepherd (the white scarf); living on a diet of vegetables and honey; abstaining from alcohol; il boss dei bossi was a man that spent his days in solitude, sat in silence, reading, writing, and eschewing contact with the outside world. And for this reason one should not greet with surprise as the press did the discovery of five bibles, the fifth open on his cushion with verses from the evangelists underlined, an image of Padre Pio (also venerated by the mafia boss Antonio Giuffré), a rosary, and silver cross. The Christian tradition to which they belong is not incidental to his asceticism, it is the very model of his asceticism.
    Likewise, what was striking about the police identikit, was not the success of its predicted likeness (based on a picture taken in 1958 when Provenzano was in his mid twenties), but the difference between the two. The face in the identikit is that of a steely eyed and thin lipped killer; whereas Provenzano appeared almost benign, a gentle faced man with a wry smile. One was reminded of the soft, composed features of Osama bin Laden compared to say Abu Hamsa, the one-eyed, hook-fisted Mullah who conforms precisely to our demonised view of the Islamic Other.
    The question remains: how does one account for this strange coincidence of opposites, a leader of a Sicilian mafia who lived in virtual poverty? Here one should employ the thought of Slavoj Žižek. After-all, does not Provenzano perfectly exemplify Žižek’s favoured example of Hegelian speculative identity: spirit is bone, i.e. when one looks hard enough to discern the core of the mafia, what one finds is not the kind of gauche or radical evil associated with Saddam’s regime, where those at the top wield gold plated Kalashnikovs as an expression of their power. Instead we find a humble shepherd. Said otherwise, in Provenzano the identity of the highest and the lowest is transposed into the particular. And hence the real shock of the photos is the way they short-circuit what are usually taken as two mutually exclusive positions: il padrone is dressed as a shepherd.
    In a strange twist one can therefore draw the parallel between Provenzano and Christ. In Christ the universal (God) and the particular (man) is transposed into the particular itself: God takes the form of a humble carpenter. Moreover, like Christ, Provenzano identified with those at the bottom of the social scale: a shepherd. And in a further turn of the screw, is not the role of the shepherd (il pastore) adopted by Provenzano the theological role par excellance?
    For this reason one should defend Žižek’s critical comments regarding The Revenge of Sith, intended as it was to explain how the young Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) falls into the path of evil. In the film, an indecisive Anakin gradually gives way to temptation, sliding into evil. By contrast the speculative approach does not assume the choice between good or bad, but the coincidence of the two such that it is one’s overwhelming desire to do good that carries one over to the dark side (Zizek: 2006, p. 101). Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the career of Maximilian Robespierre, the highly principled and abstemious proponent of non-violence who presided over the Terror to which he himself finally fell victim. The principle at work here is what Kierkegaard referred to as the teleological suspension of the ethical, exemplified in his rendition of the Sacrifice of Isaac. From the standpoint of the ethical, Abraham is called to go out and murder Isaac, yet what carries him over this is precisely his desire to do God’s will. Like the infamous sequence where Christ gets married (the epitome of the ethical life in Judaism) in Scorsese’s Last Temptation, this Act belongs to the category of the religious trial or test of faith. Similarly, it is difficult to condemn Provenzano’s actions in terms of explicitly choosing the bad over the good when his ascetic life testifies to a willingness to sacrifice the riches the choice for the bad presupposes. Indeed, Provenzano has been credited with bringing stability to the Sicilian social order in the transition from the old to the new Mafia. As one journalist put it: ‘it was he, in some ways more than any prefect or police chief who guaranteed law and order in Western Sicily’ (La Repubblica: 14 April). Moreover, does not the very name Cosa Nostra imply a sense of communal belonging: our things? Might then Provenzano have also slipped over into the dark through his passionate attachment to the good?
    As the exception to the law Provenzano remained a spectral figure, strangely empty. Indeed, how could he not appear as such from the standpoint of those inside the law; just as outside of language one has no voice? Yet it was precisely his spectral status that grounded his authority. Imagine for example the mother who scolds the child with the threat: ‘wait until your father gets home’. What is at stake is not the real father as such, any more than a real punishment, but its emptiness; because by invoking the empty place of the Other, the (dead or) absent father, the child is encouraged to fill it with its own fantasy. And here fantasy conforms to the psychoanalytic definition, i.e. it is not to be opposed to a pragmatic reality, as religion is to science; rather it is a defence against the anxiety of the real, the constitutive void or what Kierkegaard identifies as freedom’s possibilities. The press reports from Provenzano’s lawyer suggest that he understood precisely the power of the dead father with a view to opening a space of fantasy: ‘Provenzano è morto da anni la mafia ha creato un fantasma [Provenzano has been dead for years, the mafia has created a fantasy]’ (La Repubblica 31 March 2006).
    In speaking of a fantasmic supplement to sustain the law, one should again look for parallels in our everyday institutions; and here one need look no further than the Church. As Žižek has argued, it too relies precisely on an obscene Other to sustain its ideological edifice: the occultist practices of Opus Dei, the so called “White Mafia”, a supreme law beyond law, commanding pure obedience (Žižek: 2006, p. 368). However, in the light of Provenzano’s asceticism one should reverse Žižek’s usual position: whereas the Church, as with other legal institutions, is sustained by an ungodly Other, the ungodly mafia is sustained by a godly Other. In other words, its disavowed truth is to do the good.
    To this extent Provenzano’s religious sentiment acts as the inherent transgression: a code which on one level commands an act counter to the law, yet secretly colludes with that law; violating the rules of the community, yet representing the spirit of the community as its purest. To take another of Žižek’s favoured examples, far from representing an aberration of American life, the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib represents the very core of American life. Witness for example the initiation rites of the soccer fraternity or the sexually motivated ritual humiliations that accompany everyday school life (Žižek: 2006, p. 368), all instances of what Girard calls the victimage or scapegoat mechanism, ritual repetitions of the founding murder, the originary sacrifice on which all social systems and institutions are grounded. Conversely, Provenzano’s religious asceticism is not simply an aberration of the mafia code, but its purest expression.
    What then is the lesson to be learnt from Provenzano? Here one should recall Hannah Arendt’s thesis concerning the holocaust: the banality of evil, i.e. the perpetrators of death camps were not touched by a profound evil, they were not super villains, but ordinary people. Likewise, in contrast to the jubilant cries by the people of Paloma, reclaiming Sicilian culture from the grip of the mafia, denouncing Provenzano as ‘Bastardo’, distancing themselves from his extortion rackets and organised crime and generally behaving like a lynch mob one should practice concrete universality. What can this mean other than transposing the difference between Provenzano and us, into us? In other words, just as Provenzano recognised the saintliness of the Mafia, we should recognise il bastando in us.

    • Thanks, interesting point of view. if you can read Italian you might try Il Capo dei Capi the eponymous investigative novel by journalists Giuseppe D’Avanzo and Attilio Bolzoni. (sadly not translated in English) Cheers!

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