Raffaele La Capria has started his summer holidays in the family home of his wife Ilaria Occhini, near Arezzo in Tuscany. But summer holidays mean very little to a writer. There are no particular rules or hours.
Raffaele La Capria, what is a writer’s role in Italy today?
To have a dissenting opinion. In other words, to be completely autonomous and unpredictable, because this is the only way to foster ideas and get them moving in society.
Are you a writer who is read and heard?
My works deserve to be better known, and I say this not because I am presumptuous, but because my work is created in such a way that it meets the needs of a very particular group of readers.
And who are these readers?
The readers who read my books, my twenty-five readers. They love me and they are so loyal to me. These readers include quite a few – those that read “Ferito a morte” (“The Mortal Wound”) – that even say that reading that book changed their lives. Of course they are exaggerating, they merely want to express their strong feelings about that book. Although it is a complex literary work, to my surprise it found popular fortune.
Recently the publisher Mondadori came out with a new “Meridiano” in two volumes (2,500 pages) which includes all your works. How is this “Meridiano” structured?
The first “Meridiano” included all my work up to the age of eighty, but then I wrote other books into my nineties. The new “Meridiano” includes these later books. In the first “Meridiano” the order is chronological, and in the second “Meridiano” it is based on themes and divided into sections with titles such as “La bella giornata” (“The Beautiful Day”), “L’amorosa inchiesta” (“Amorous Enquiry”) and “Lo stile dell’anatra” (“Duck Style”) etc.
What happens at age ninety?
When you reach ninety you can contemplate life with more detachment, even critical detachment. Thus the life that we write about is more real than the life we live because it has an order that the life we live does not have. When we live, we are distracted by our own lives and, therefore, we can’t contemplate them. We can contemplate life and judge it when we see it with the detachment that age brings us.
But despite your age, you frequently write quite passionately about current affairs for the newspapers?
Such writing is cultural journalism and has value in its immediacy and as a response to current affairs.
Have you become a philosopher with the passing of the years?
I am not a philosopher, I have a different mentality. But there are philosophers who have told me that they have taken many philosophical inspirations from my work.
What do you think is the common thread in your prose and your poetry?
You can find it in my essay “La mosca nella bottiglia” (“The Fly in the Bottle”) where the central theme is suspicion – abstract thinking and thus theories, concepts and ideologies – when we are led away from common sense. For me, common sense is being willing to see that the emperor has no clothes, which at times is naively seen as being the “guardian” of an ideology. There was a priest of the church of Saint Gregory of Nyssa who said: “Concepts (therefore abstractions and ideologies) create idols; only wonder comprehends anything.” The amazement, or to put it better, the wonder of being in the world. The wonder that the whole of creation inspires in us.
Is this your philosophy?
Yes, because I have seen so much grief, blood and death as a result of people fanatically pursuing an ideology.
But the terrible stories we see in the news, of war, illness and catastrophes that threaten our world, we also see in your work?
Yes, of course, because my work is full of a sense of ontological inadequacy and insecurity. I think that these days we all have a bit of this insecurity as we are confronted by the madness of some of the things going on.
At ninety years old, how do you see the world?
As I said, with a detachment that doesn’t distract from the essential things – good, evil, God, the devil, etc.
But have you been able to make sense of anything in all these years?
What should I have understood? Should I have grasped the meaning of life? Every individual creates his own way of being and alone takes full responsibility for what he invents.
What does being a writer mean?
It means continually looking for the real meaning of things inside of oneself. What counts most is recognising the evidence. If it is raining, I absolutely cannot say that the weather is wonderful. But there are countries in which people end up in gulags because when it is raining they won’t say that the weather is wonderful. This is the importance of common sense and evidence. I am a challenge to conformism, which is always looking to bend things. It is necessary to fight against the creation of lies, when these days it is common practice for lies to be transformed into truth. This happened, for example, when people claimed that September 11 was a Jewish conspiracy. One needs to have the courage to demolish these lies.
What about fiction?
Fiction is important because some things can be better explained by telling a story. Fiction is a way of getting closer to things that is different from just telling the facts about them, because it involves a storyteller who seeks out a listener.
Do you like writing?
Certainly, when there is a topic that I find engaging. I need to write out of impulse and inspiration. Sometimes I need a well-devised sentence that will become the seed for a story.
What are you inspired to write?
Short stories sometimes, and indeed the word “short” implies a concise illumination for the writer. I write about lots of things, just like, for example, my short story collection “Fiori giapponesi” (“Japanese Flowers”). These are paper flowers that open, bloom, and take on different colours when put in a glass of water, and for me this is a metaphor for the imagination of the reader.
Are you pleased with your work?
Now that the “Meridiano” has been published and I have my opera omnia, occasionally I open this “Complete Works” of mine and look at the things that work and the things that don’t work. Because I am a writer that has often reflected upon what I have written, and I have often spoken about my books and commented on them as if someone else had written them. The title of my book of interviews best explains this proclivity of mine. It is called “Me, visto da lui stesso” (“Me, As Seen By Himself”).