… each flame must make its way
Notes on Antonio Panetta’s Luciola Italica

The fireflies still glow. Ardently, they move through the air. They whir excitedly but in a way that is somehow also orderly. They dance their dances of love alone or in company on the emulsion prepared paper, the dark ground that bears light. Antonio Panetta has invited them into his book, a small, dark casket, as if they had emerged from Dante’s Inferno, where they once encircled guilty souls in the form of small flames. Here they do not enfold and close in on guilt.
They move about in order to describe the instant, and at the
same time its departure, with their trailing lights. These
fireflies are quite literally bearers of light, and they glow into
the paper like words of light whose movements cannot be
spoken but are nonetheless texts.

They said the fireflies would disappear. They say they
have already disappeared and that they only reappear at
particular festivities when we long for a future for ourselves.
In February 1975, just a few months before his death, Pier
Paolo Pasolini wrote of dividing the period that spanned
1945 and 1975 into three phases: “before,” “during,” and
“after” the “disappearance of the fireflies.” His was a poetic
metaphor for the fascism of the Christian Democrats who
had governed Italy during this period. The “fireflies”—glim –
mering individuals engaged in self-actualizing conquests
and free flight—had fallen prey to the collective madness
of prescribed consumerism. A few years after Pasolini’s death, in his homage, the French poet and photographer
Denis Roche titled his book La disparition des lucioles. His
subject was the act of taking photographs. For Roche, those
tiny erratic lights that once stood for so many voyaging,
searching photographers—“enlightened fireflies”—have vanished, blanched by the blinding light of escapism. Masses of
pictures have stolen the poetry from photography’s singular
glitterings and flickerings. More recently, Georges Didi-
Hubermann, has made it possible for the fireflies to come
back. In La survivance des lucioles, he describes the erratic
incandescence of the small creatures, pointing out that
they glow intermittently, emitting their temporary light in
pulses—in much the same way that a picture of history does
not build up continually, not in progression, but rather in
leaps, lifted there by the curiosity of inquiring individuals.1

Antonio Panetta’s fireflies carry further the legacy of polit-
ical despair and of poetic disillusionment. They carry it to
a historical optimism, for which we have to thank the little
flames themselves, their dances and their ecstasy. They glow
on and live on, if we are willing to see them. Their traces in
his pictures lay down a time of skipping and, with their leaps,
create a continued presence. In these diaphanous images,
each mark of presence sets itself into other constellations.
In Panetta’s pictures we can see the defiant paradox of
history as photography, of photography as history—not the
“eunuch-like” ideal of objective history that Johann Gustav
Droysen had already refused in the nineteenth century, but
rather a Becoming—a becoming that can be seen shimmer-
ing in this tomorrowless passion in the expanse of time and
in the crowdedness of the instant. Thus, in Panetta’s uneasy
reading of traces, the small, delicate lights—Luciola Italica—
are movement and traces in one. And in the light that they
emit, every possibility of the coming leap, of shading and of
darkness, is contemplated in a new light.

“tal si move ciascuna per la gola
del fosso, ché nessuna mostra ‘l furto,
e ogne fiamma un peccatore invola.”

(so, through the gullet of that ditch, each flame
must make its way; no flame displays its prey,
though every flame has carried off a sinner.)

1 Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Il vuoto
del potere ovvero L’articolo
delle lucciole dal Corriere della
sera del 1° febbraio 1975,” in Scritti
Corsari (1975) (www.pasolini.net/
htm); Denis Roche, La disparition
des lucioles (Paris: Éditions du Seuil,
1982); Georges Didi-Huberman,
Survivance des lucioles (Paris: Les
Éditions de Minuit, 2009); Dante
Alighieri, The Divine Comedy:
Inferno, trans. Allen Mandelbaum
(New York: Bantam Classics, 1982),
Canto 26.