Orsini on Garzilli, 'L'esploratore del Duce: le avventure di Giuseppe Tucci e la politica italiana in Oriente da Mussolini a Andreotti; con il carteggio di Giulio Andreotti'

Enrica Garzilli
Francesca Orsini

Enrica Garzilli. L'esploratore del Duce: le avventure di Giuseppe Tucci e la politica italiana in Oriente da Mussolini a Andreotti; con il carteggio di Giulio Andreotti. Rome: Memori and Milano: Asiatica Association, 2012. 2 volumes. 513 and 592 pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-88-900226-6-1.

Reviewed by Francesca Orsini (School of Oriental and African Studies)
Published on H-Asia (June, 2014)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha

[Ed. note: The author, Dr. Enrica Garzilli, has provided a response to this review of her book. A link to the response can be found below the review.]

I was intrigued when I, though not a Tibet specialist, was asked to review this book. This was my chance to learn about the origins of Italian Orientalism, of which I was in my own way an epigone, and to understand why it had leaned so much more towards esoteric subjects and contributed to perpetuating an image of South Asia (and Tibet) as an exotic and mysterious land to be studied by a select and dedicated few. My own professor of Hindi at Venice University, Prof. Laxman Prasad Misra, had been “brought” to Italy from Jabalpur by Giuseppe Tucci in the 1950s and established by him as professor at both Rome and Venice Universities according to a system of personal patronage that seemed part and parcel of the discipline. I must admit that when I received the two bulky volumes (together running over 1,200 pages) I balked a little, but nonetheless sat down to read, starting from the additional seventy-page introduction that established what a difficult and all-consuming project this had been. Giuseppe Tucci (1895-1984) was a prodigious writer, philologist, archaeologist, and travel writer, and is still considered an authority on early modern Tibetan history and art: his Tibetan Painted Scrolls (two volumes, 1949) is still the standard work, and his essay “Tibetan Conflict in the Sixteenth Century” was reprinted in the 2013 Tibetan History Reader. A friend tells me that Tucci is still among the first authors assigned in Tibetan studies programs. And then the title, The Duce’s Explorer! Indeed some of the most engaging pages are about Tucci’s ardently Fascist Sanskrit teacher, the genial Carlo Formichi, who taught Italian in Shantiniketan for a while and there, together with Tucci, befriended Rabindranath Tagore and invited him to visit Italy and Mussolini.

Like so many others, Tagore was apparently much impressed by Tucci’s scholarship and linguistic abilities, and shared long walks and conversations with him. What did they talk about? Well ... this is exactly the problem with this book. After reading it, what I have learned about Tucci is the following—that he was a prodigious scholar and linguist; that he was also a difficult, proud, and arrogant character; he wrote indefatigably fundamental works on Tibet and on Indian philosophy (his bibliography runs over thirty pages); he traveled eight times to Tibet and collected hundreds of manuscripts for the Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (IsMEO) in Rome that he helped establish--and for himself, when the Tibetan lamas were not looking. (One good anecdote is that when Tucci used to visit the National Archives in New Delhi, a peon was deputed to follow him all the time to make sure that he did not steal anything.) Mussolini and his minister Giovanni Gentile—and after WWII, Giulio Andreotti—supported Tucci financially and politically because they shared a vision of Italy’s expansion in Asia—but we are not told what this vision was. I also learned that several of Tucci’s companions on his travels, like Fosco Maraini, later broke with him, and several of Tucci’s erstwhile students declined to talk to the author about him. Even the letter exchange with Andreotti, far from shedding light on Tucci’s political leanings or on Andreotti’s political vision regarding South Asia, reiterate official support and testify to Tucci’s ability to win powerful backers. Tucci’s archaeological expeditions were always luxuriously provided for, we are told, but what were their scientific achievements? This unfortunately is not the place where you will find an answer to this question. Despite Garzilli’s extraordinary dedication, this biography drowns the reader in superlatives and generalizations, uses twenty words when two would be enough, and resolutely refuses to engage in a critical analysis of Tucci’s contribution. I found myself a twenty-year-old student again, being told how “great” and “learned” Italian Orientalists were without being told why.

Author Response: https://networks.h-net.org/node/22055/discussions/46429/re-orsini-garzilli-lesploratore-de...

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=41249

Citation: Francesca Orsini. Review of Garzilli, Enrica, L'esploratore del Duce: le avventure di Giuseppe Tucci e la politica italiana in Oriente da Mussolini a Andreotti; con il carteggio di Giulio Andreotti. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. June, 2014.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=41249

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

[Ed. note: Prof. Orsini was offered the opportunity to respond to these comments. She has not elected to do so. RD]

In the review by Prof. Francesca Orsini appearing in H-Asia in June, 2014, Orsini writes that she did not learn anything from reading (in some two months) L'esploratore Del Duce: le Avventure di Giuseppe Tucci e la politica italiana in Oriente da Mussolini a Andreotti. Con la corrispondenza di Giulio Andreotti, Rome: Memori and Milano: Asiatica Association, 2012 (2nd ed. Asiatica Association, April 2014). 2 volumes. lii+685 and xiv+724 pp. $45.00 (paper), Vol. 1: ISBN 9-788890-022654. Vol. 2: ISBN 978-88-900226-6-1.

It is hinted in the review that the sheer extent of materials covered in the biography is overwhelming; however, this criticism speaks more about the limited expectations of the reviewer than of any shortcomings in a serious scholarly work. More troubling is the fact that the reviewer seems to have doubts about the nature of Mussolini’s designs on Asia and the role of both Tucci and Formichi in advancing these designs, despite the fact that clear evidence for and analysis of their views on the subject dominate hundreds of pages of this work. This perspective seems to derive from a fantasy that Tucci’s scientific and archaeological accomplishments (discussions of which the reviewer, unfortunately, could not locate in the text) can be used to erase any doubtful ethical concerns. But, as the biography clearly argues, Tucci was the mouthpiece of Mussolini’s agenda and not merely a scholar on the sidelines with quaint political leanings. It is high time that Italian "orientalists" and Asian scholars begin acknowledge the complicity of our field in this shameful agenda.

In the interest of clearly conveying to potential readers the contents of the biography (a task that by rights is the responsibility of the reviewer), I would like to point out some passages that are, in my opinion, relevant to the topics raised in the review, besides the translations and explanations of Tucci’s five Sanskrit letters to the Raj Guru of Nepal, Hem Raj Sharma, and Tucci’s unedited letters and correspondence (with Benito Mussolini, with Giulio Andreotti, and other main personalities).

The book consists of 2 volumes and 1,475 pages total (Prof. Orsini writes “over 1,200” but it is not difficult to count them), divided into 13 main chapters, each of them including many sub-chapters. Between each chapter there are original and unedited photos and pictures, images taken from journals of the time, and original maps of Tucci’s expeditions in Tibet, Nepal, and India (y. 1925-1955). The critical apparatus (Endnotes, Introduction, Tucci's Bibliography and Bibliography of the book, Biographies of the 1350 characters met by Tucci, Appendix of Additional Documents, Note on the Reading, List of Epigraphs) runs for 352 pages.

Vol. I includes: Table of contents of the work, table of contents of the first volume, index of the nine original maps of Tucci’s trips in Tibet and Nepal and of some of his trips in India (1925-1955), index of the images and pictures of the first volume; Introduction, Acknowledgments, and Note on the Text: 52 pages altogether (and not 70, as Orsini writes); Chap. 1: Tucci’s childhood (including unedited family documents) and his “conversion” to Buddhism: pp. 1-52; Chap. 2: Formichi’s Biography: pp. 55-99 (including his unedited correspondence To Mussolini and to Tagore, and his unedited Sanskrit letter to the Rajguru of Nepal, Hem Raj Sharma, tr. and explained); Interview with the late Prof. Pio Filippani-Ronconi: pp. 100-108; Chap. 3: Tucci’s relationship with Gandhi and Tagore (including detailed and unedited account of Tagore’s visits in Italy): pp. 109-143; In search of documents: the Scuola Orientale Roma, and the (unfruitiful) meetings with some characters of the ex-IsMEO (such as its late President): pp. 144-154. Chap. 4: Tucci’s fruitful relationship with Giovanni Gentile (Minister of Public Education of Benito Mussolini in 1923, and his personal friend and adviser on Asia matters), the beginning of Tucci’s career as administrative secretary of the library of the Senate, then professor in Rome, while residing for 5 years in India (1925 - Jan. 1931): pp. 157-176; Julius Evola and Mircea Eliade, both Tucci’s friends (including unedited documents): pp. 176-186; Tucci’s first expeditions and their cost; first Sanskrit letters to the Rajguru of Nepal, Hem Raj Sharma (tr. and explained): pp. 263-270. Chap. 5: Fascism and the Orient, Mussolini’s dreams and plans of an Italian India (including unedited documents): pp. 283-354. Chap. 6: History of the Royal Academy of Italy (including uned. documents): pp. 355-389; Foundation (1933) and history of the Italian Institute of Middle and Far East (IsMEO) (including uned. documents) and its “straightforward political aim” (Benito Mussolini’s words): pp. 381-481; Subhas Chandra Bose's in Italy (including unedited documents): pp. 427-437; Tucci’s mission in Japan as representative of Il Duce (1936-37) for propaganda and to prepare the entry of Italy to the Anti-Comintern pact of November 6, 1937 (including uned. documents and letters of Tucci to Mussolini). Chap. 7: Tucci’s expeditions, 1931-35. Endnotes (only bibliographic references of quotes and documents): pp. 641-685.

Vol. II includes Indices and 6 chapters (including four more unedited Sanskrit letters from Tucci to Hem Raj Sharma, and other scholars’ letters in Sankrit and Nepali). Chap. 8: Tucci’s 1937 and 1939 explorations and his correspondence with Giovanni Gentile (newly dated); Chap. 9: after World War II and the Lhasa Expedition; the German Mission of Ahnenerbe: pp. 21-30 (including uned. documents); Chap. 10: Tucci’s expeditions in Nepal; Hem Raj Sharma’s first complete biography; the issue of manuscripts never returned and books never quoted by Tucci or by some of his students. Chap. 11: Tucci’s Archeological missions and restorations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran (including an interview with one of his international collaborators). Chap. 12 includes all the unedited correspondence between Tucci and the controversial, powerful politician Giulio Andreotti, which ran for almost 37 years, and Tucci’s activity under the golden years of the Christian Democracy and the Years of Lead: pp. 371- 456. Chap. 13 is the account of my meeting with Tucci. The book ends with Giuseppe Tucci’s chronology and his complete bibliography (including previously unknown works): pp. 479-512; a general bibliography of part of the material I used (including a 7-page list of original and unedited documents from archives worldwide, and a 4 page list of original and unedited letters, correspondences and diaries): pp. 513-593; a 7-page list of unedited journal articles, a 3-page list of interviews conducted by the author, and a list of scientific articles, monographs, translations, films, photos: pp. 535-592; an Appendix including photos of the unedited letters and documents such as Tucci’s letters to Mussolini, Andreotti, and Hem Raj Sharma (in Sanskrit): pp. 593-600; an index of the epigraphs; a list and short biographies (many of them previously unknown) of the 1350 characters mentioned in the book: pp. 603-704; endnotes (consisting of bibliographic references of quotes and documents only): pp. 705-724.

It is unfortunate that in her some two-month reading of the work, Prof. Orsini was not able to catch anything relevant to her, besides Formichi’s biography (included in the first 100 pages) and an anecdote on Tucci (found on p. 48 of the first volume). I can only hope that the above summary of the work – although it says nothing of the historical events, additional people involved, and my analysis – can be of help. In relation to specific omissions alleged in the review, Prof. Orsini and other interested readers might consider reading up through chapters V, VI, and XII (for the political views of Mussolini, Tucci, and Andreotti) and up through chapters XI (for assessments of the philological and archaeological accomplishments of Tucci). It would also be helpful if the reviewer might adopt a more scientific (read, impartial) posture and give some thought to the original unedited material (which cannot be found anywhere else). Prof. Orsini could even learn something. 

Dr Enrica Garzilli
Harvard '95
Editor-in-Chief IJTS & JSAWS