Atlas ' surrender

The antithesis smile

Nausica Manzi

Practising to fall is

the formula to draw

the ‘antithesis smile’ on one’s face

Where night and day meet Atlas surrenders, but smiles proudly. He is the guardian with mighty hands firmly grounded onto the Earth, the wise father and master of the shimmering Pleiades, who has always supported the entire celestial vault over his head and on his shoulders. He has fallen, succumbing to the enormous effort. His strength, invincible as the pillar of the universe as well as the first cervical vertebrae uniting body and soul, has failed – overcome by the weight of a contemporary universe that has become unbearable. So now that he has fallen, what will become of the world and the life of its stars? What is that smile on Atlas’ face?

Falling describes movement, an action, an attitude and it is usually bears a negative meaning. On a more literal note, falling refers to the realm of danger and limitation; in fact, it evokes feelings such as nostalgia, melancholy, and sadness. Yet, if we try to widen the perspective, in the act of falling, we find the crucial dimension of existence that can lighten the weight of a world that has forgotten itself: the antithesis smile.  Thanks to his power, Atlas thus becomes the spokesperson and master: without the exercise of falling, no human being would be able to understand the fragile power of a meteor’s smile that turns the act of falling into a wake of beauty.

Atlas is the mythological titan who, compelled by Zeus’ will, holds the entire universe on his shoulders, being its sure foundation and wise anchorage. In medical language, however, atlas refers to the first vertebra of the spine, that very same one that enables the support and movement of the skull – it is the connecting link between muscles, thoughts, actions and emotions.

Atlas’ fall, therefore, represents something profound that shakes the entire body of a contemporary world that has forgotten its roots and it is exclusively made of planets of success, performance and appearance inhabited, however, by human beings of flesh and veins in which daily labours, disappointments and pain flow. None of these tragic elements is welcome on this world, each claim that every fall must be cushioned, and every pain thrown into oblivion. All those individuals, inhabitants between Earth and sky, bodies of action and souls of dreams – held together by an atlas that is both the root and master of the art of falling – do nothing but attempt to conform to something they are not. They chase a salvation that does not suit them, an ephemeral happiness, while forgetting to smile. Contemporary skies are, in fact, made of enormous parachutes that fear impacts and that, hiding behind a flimsy protection, suffocate the real vocation of countless human beings: to be human stars, whose journey towards true happiness is the ‘antithesis’ smile‘.

Atlas’ fall unleashes an existential earthquake: it represents the Hegelian negative moment that shakes the intellect and tests the unhappy consciousness of the present world, and which slowly transforms it into a renewed self-consciousness. Atlas’ surrender redeems the contemporary world, and opens it to the preciousness of the tragic element without which one would never fully comprehend the positive aspect, i.e., that existential ‘funniness’ that, like Atlas, leads one to endure hardship and pain, in smiling. Because this is the only way one can attain awareness of one’s vocation, a synthesis of positive and negative, doubt and uncertainty, protection and injury. Practising to fall is the formula to draw the ‘antithesis smile’ on one’s face, it is the path to serenity, the comical tragedy to redeem the true sun of existence, to break the parachutes and transform those human faces into stars that shine, explode and then fall, thus turning the negative into a celestial spectacle. Indeed, Atlas was believed to also be the father of the Pleiades, and these seven sisters were later transformed into stars, which is no coincidence: it is he who teaches and reminds men how to be meteors of beauty. This mythological yet real and vital first vertebra of the spine teaches each of us how to consciously use our head, how to connect our interior and exterior in a smile that peeps through tragedy. It teaches us how to make every choice an art of knowing how to fall and not how to get back up, just like today’s society does: in fact, it is important to know how to fall, to practise doing so through the ‘antithesis smile’. This means, without being afraid of the ‘negative moment’, of collapse, of fatigue, of fear after a life of parachutes that suddenly stop working and abandon us to emptiness and anguish. Atlas’ fall exalts the power of all that is negative, and restores meaning and completeness to all fragility. Atlas is the metaphor of a soul that, through a smile conceived by a crisis, frees itself from a society that has made its body a suffocating parachute, forgetting the power of negativity as a dimension of wonder.

The human being is a meteor learning the art of falling by returning to his or her soul-atlas. The meteor is born from a star, a fragile gaseous body that, later, upon impact on a world of appearances and parachutes that suffocate rather than rescue, can also become a meteorite ready to explode amid disappointments, fatigue and pain, until it finally falls, holding on to a smile – a wake of beauty. 

Atlas’ surrender, and that of the entire universe, is the revolution of bodies and souls that reactivate their consciences and their thoughts by restarting from tragedy to rediscover the ‘antithesis smile’ of existence, the latter understood as a synthesis, as the wholeness of a fulfilled life that is, as Aristotle maintained, the attainment of true happiness.

Besides, it is no coincidence if, in many sculptures, Atlas is portrayed serene in his toil, with an antithesis smile dangling from his lips, the same one that comes from the awareness that falling is an act of rebirth.
Per aspera ad astra!

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