The Broken Fountain

The Broken Fountain: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition

Thomas Belmonte
With a new foreword by Ida Susser
Pellegrino D’Acierno
Stanislao Pugliese
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/belm13370
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  • Book Info
    The Broken Fountain
    Book Description:

    As Ida Susser writes in reference to Belmonte's Broken Fountain, "good ethnographies have long lives." This classic of urban anthropology, one of the most acclaimed ethnographies of recent years, offers vivid, literary descriptions of Fontana del Re, an impoverished Neapolitan neighborhood. Belmonte documents the struggles of Neapolitans surrounded by crumbling buildings and economic insecurity. He details family dynamics as well as the working of Naples's informal economy, the day-to-day struggle for economic subsistence, and the intermittent begging and thieving of the young. Taking us from the bustling, vibrant, and gritty streets and alleyways of Naples to the kitchen tables of poor Neapolitan homes, Belmonte resists simplistic depictions of the poor. Instead, he presents subtle, compelling portraits and analyses that capture the emotional, social, and economic lives of his subjects.

    In addition to the continuing relevance of his insights into the effects of poverty, Belmonte's willingness to reflect on his own reactions and emotions while in the field has influenced a generation of scholars. In The Broken Fountain, he poignantly describes the experience of living alone in a strange urban environment and his interactions with the residents of Fontana del Re.

    This edition includes a foreword by Ida Susser and an afterword by Pellegrino D'Acierno and Stanislao G. Pugliese.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50108-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: The Broken Fountain in Retrospect
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)

    IN ENGLISH, THE verb “to know” can refer to a knower’s cognitive register of objects, events and of their causal relations and to a knower’s personal knowledge of self and other. In many other languages, including Italian, a distinction must be made between that knowledge that issues directly from the involvement of the person in the world and that knowledge that is objectively separable from the central core of one’s subjectivity. One can merely "know about" something or one can “know with.” Once a speaker has internalized the two forms of the verb “to know,” the limitations of only using...

  6. Foreword: The Anthropologist as Humanist
    (pp. xxvii-xlvi)
    Ida Susser

    GOOD ETHNOGRAPHIES have long lives. They are set in a historical era, but they represent a year or more of a person’s life and reflections, analysis and perceptions. This is why we read and reread and restudy a classic monograph. For example, take one of the founding tomes of the discipline, Evans-Pritchard’s The Nuer. In spite of trenchant critique and the passing of the colonial era, and although the author is long dead and the people who in the African Sudan of the 1930s were known as the Nuer no longer follow many of the rules and regulations of inheritance...

  7. chapter one Paean to the City
    (pp. 1-8)

    I ARRIVED IN Naples on a cold, wet, abysmally gray day of early April. I was frightened and apprehensive. I didn’t speak more than a few sentences of Italian, and I was geographically lost. As I followed the crowds from the railroad station up what seemed to be the main boulevard, looking for a hotel, I stole glances into the side streets. The boulevard was modern and bustling, lined with drab turn-of-the-century office and residential buildings. But the side streets, the narrow, winding vicoli, appeared shadowy and broken, far older in architecture and somehow removed from the activity of the...

  8. chapter two Fieldwork in Naples
    (pp. 9-26)

    IN THE BEGINNING, the world of the Neapolitan poor seemed impenetrable to me. The whole society seemed impenetrable, but the world of the poor was especially private and self-contained. In my walks through the lower-class districts, I was an unobtrusive observer, a receiver of impressions quietly passing through. But I always felt like an unwelcome intruder and made no attempt to settle in alone. I knew that I would have to find someone from within to serve as a diplomatic intermediary, someone who could introduce me and explain me and reassure people, in their own language, that my intentions were...

  9. chapter three The Neapolitan Personal Style
    (pp. 27-36)

    WHEN I FLED Naples, I fled like a sleepwalker, brooding, silent, and alone. I fled to Rome and to Florence, but no sooner would I be off the train and checking into a hotel than I would feel a dull, metallic edge cooling in my chest, becoming colder and sharper within me as the days of walking and viewing went by. Then I had to restrain myself from returning straightaway. Then Naples, which had been my prison, appeared on the horizon of my consciousness as a city of hope.

    After one such flight and impulsive return, on a withering hot...

  10. chapter four Tragedies of Fellowship and Community
    (pp. 37-50)

    Can one know anything about a people by the form of their greeting? Certain Indians of Brazil greet their fellows with the declaration, “I am hungry,” thus reinforcing the imperative of commensality.¹ Other peoples may express their reserve with a neutral “Hello” or risk an unwanted intimacy with the query, “How are you?” The poor of Naples say “Addo va?” (Where are you going?). They say it loud and quickly, if they know you, and they expect a quick answer. It is to say that your destinations and their destinations are a matter of mutual concern; that your life and...

  11. chapter five Family Life-Worlds
    (pp. 51-78)

    FAMILY RELATIONS ARE two-faced. They are compounded of care and neglect, affection and abuse, love and hate. They are charged with sensual energy and yet they are defined as asexual. They allocate power to extremes of dominance and subordination, and yet within families (in contrast to more explicitly political formations) power-holders are vulnerable and easily wounded by those who have no power.

    Family relations are loose and unspecialized, only to contain unwritten constitutions of rights and obligations. They are structured and formal, and relaxed and informal. They possess a tensile strength unknown elsewhere in society, but all families are destined...

  12. chapter six The Interpretation of Family Feeling
    (pp. 79-102)

    AT FIRST I found it challenging to record the myriad details of life in Stefano’s household. But as time went on, the patterns revealed and repeated themselves. The shouting did not quiet down. The blows and kicks did not cease. The blindness and the bondage to the crudest emotions did not lessen, and I found myself increasingly exhausted after passing a few hours with them. Occasionally I felt constrained to leave them, and did not call upon them. They understood that on some level I was rejecting them and were offended. They had befriended me and shared their bread and...

  13. chapter seven The Triumvirate of Want
    (pp. 103-122)

    THE SMALLEST CHILDREN at Fontana del Re, whenever they approached me, came forward with palms extended, begging for small change. It was automatic with them, this mechanical extension of the palm, as though someone had trained them to it. They hardly saw me as they recited their requests, and they rarely insisted if I refused. Begging was as natural to them as smiling.

    Poor people care about money to the point of obsession. But with the poor, money is for spending. It is for quick conversion into life. Since money and life are so closely interconnected in their minds, they...

  14. chapter eight Reactions to a Disordered World
    (pp. 123-136)

    THE GREAT ANARCHIST, Mikhail Bakunin, thought that poor folk like those of Naples, “being almost totally virgin to all bourgeois civilization,” would lead the world to true socialism.¹ But the poor are not, alas, “virgin” to bourgeois civilization. They deal in its currency and accept its terms as servants or tricksters. In other words, they are seriously compromised and hardly in a position to fashion the organizational weaponry which is a first prerequisite for any socialism.

    The Neapolitan underclasses might impede the advance of a proletarian revolution. They are quick enough to riot, but they are not a people for...

  15. chapter nine Conclusion: The Poor of Naples and the World Underclass
    (pp. 137-144)

    HUMAN HISTORY IS tragic only because it is self-aware. Men can measure and lament the distance they have traveled from each other and themselves. They can know when they are fully human and sense when they are only pre-human. Or, as Ludwig Feuerbach has suggested, they can isolate and ignore the possibilities of their humanity, preferring to displace their finest human potentials onto the idea of God.

    Humanity is here conceived of as a constant, the legacy of evolution, a set of biosocial potentials for altruism and harmonious collective life. Since the emergence of stratification, man’s history (his changing ways...

  16. epilogue: Return to Naples
    (pp. 145-192)

    I HAVE RETURNED to Naples many times. Each return was a time of hope and fear. Each was a search for atonement, reunion, and forgiveness. In Naples, I never had to look for lost friends. I was soon enough recognized, waved to, and shouted at from across crowded piazzas—rushed, embraced, questioned, and finally scolded for having stayed away for so long.

    It was thus, on a balmy afternoon in September of 1983 that Giuseppe, or rather, Pepe, found me on Via Roma as I stared vacantly into a shop window. Giuseppe was the son of Stefano and Elena, and...

  17. notes
    (pp. 193-198)
  18. Afterword: Dangerous Supplement
    (pp. 199-224)
    Pellegrino D’Acierno and Stanislao G. Pugliese

    EULOGIES ARE WRITTEN to be spoken only once and in a voice that cannot be prevented from quivering. The present text, a cobbling together of the earlier versions with some additions to help it serve as an afterword to the new Columbia University Press edition of The Broken Fountain, still speaks in the voice of the original eulogy.¹ Now in its final form and place as a post script, I regard it as a “dangerous supplement,” in some of the senses that Derrida’s reading of Rousseau’s original coinage brings into play. Eulogies, in their way, do the work of supplementation,...

  19. Index
    (pp. 225-228)