Two very different Italians featured in Foreign Policy magazine’s 2014 list of “Leading Global Thinkers”, published this week.
The first to appear in the global politics, economics and ideas magazine’s list was no great surprise. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has rapidly become the fresh face of Europe’s new left, and his face has been seen peering from publications worldwide. He features in the “Decision Makers” category alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic, and seven others. He is praised for “bucking bunga-bunga politics” and trying to replace it with “business-friendly efficiency”. Although the magazine acknowledges that the inexperienced 39-year-old is finding that his country’s vested interests are not always as ready to yield to his charms as his foreign admirers, he is still held out as “the best hope to lift Italy out of its worst economic slump since the 1930s.”
The magazine’s annual list is divided into 10 categories: in addition to Decision-Makers there are Agitators, Challengers, Naturals, Innovators, Advocates, Chroniclers, Healers, Artists and Moguls. The list is always quirky and sometimes controversial. Some may question the inclusion of “Jihadi John”, the apparently British born Islamic State militant responsible for the beheading of James Foley and possibly three other hostages, “for being the poster boy of expat jihadism”. He appears in the Agitators category, which also includes Vladamir Putin. But the list is always admirably global in its outlook, bringing attention to important international figures often overlooked by the West’s increasingly insular media, and contains a refeshingly high number of women (51 compared to 80 men).
The other Italian to feature in the list, this time in the Chroniclers section with satirist John Oliver and mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani and others, is a less well-known face. In fact, no known photographs of novelist Elena Ferrante have been published. Ferrante was described in the New York Times as “one of the great novelists of our time” but the name is a pseudonym. In a letter to her editor in 1991 she explained that she would never promote her novels, attend festivals or accept prizes because, “if the book is worth something, it should be enough.” Foreign Policy clearly agrees and she is praised “for writing honest anonymous ficiton”. The writer is best known for her series of novels about two very different women born in a dirt-poor neighbourhood of Naples, the latest being Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The magazine describes it as, “a raw study of the distance brought by diverging circumstances of education and family.”
Renzi and Ferrante, an odd couple to represent Italy. But it could have been worse, as the publication’s inabilty to write a couple of paragraphs about Italian politics without using the phrase bunga-bunga reminds us.