Omertà : the melodramatic aesthetic and its moral/political economy in Naples



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This ethnography re-elaborates omertà as something more than a code of honor enforced through an oath of secrecy among members of the Neapolitan camorra and ordinary underemployed individuals in their midst. On appearance, this study is a fetishized and even eroticized search for determinacy or "meaning" performs what Sedgwick (1997) calls "strong theory" or a hermeneutics of suspicion bent on exposure. Having arrived, it seems, at the center of determinacy, the ethnography hints at now being able to tell the "real" story of the camorra and omertà. However, the stories it tells along the way take the camorra and omertà as not only "real", concrete objects (institution and code, respectively), but also (and primarily) their scattered, radial effects/affects in the surrounding zone where the the camorra and ordinary Neapolitans make contact. These stories do not sum these fragments up as omertà's constituent parts with the goal of capturing them in a singular, sovereign, minimalist and generalizing "conceptual economy". Rather, they maintain contact with the everyday grain in which these fragments are embedded. This ethnography takes omertà as a part of everything rather than an objectifiable, identifiable thing. It tracks its livelihood across various domains and registers, everywhere all the time in everyday life for ordinary individuals living in the zone of contact with the camorra. It loiters in this zone where scarce resources, fierce competition, volatile power balances and unreliable state authority render day-to-day life particularly indeterminate. It participates in the practices of negotiating personal livelihood under such constraints--practices that ordinary individuals call the art of making do. This ethnography follows and engages individuals as they perform the art of making do. It pays simultaneous attention to that art's aesthetic, economic and affective dimensions by looking specifically at the moral/political economy of two potent popular performance genres, the sceneggiata and its contemporary descendant, neomelodica music. It finds that for ordinary Neapolitans affects and interests are inextricably intertwined in shared sensibilities, in popular style, and more broadly in the aesthetics of everyday life. It finds that this everyday aesthetics is bound in complex ways to its excessive limit, the camorra. These accounts describe this complex bond as an affective community.