So you want to be a writer, uh?


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Translated by Emilia Maiella


Art in human life has a fundamental function, whether it is an element of evasion or culture, it represents a gaze on the past, on the present and on the future. Creative expression helps to understand existence whose meaning often escapes. 

A few years ago, I wrote a post (The book is dead) in which I claimed that neither Dante nor Manzoni, in their time, could not brag about crowds of readers. We are talking about times when most of the population could not write and read. 

In 1861, the year of the Unification of Italy, illiteracy was near to 75 percent. When I refer to these data, I do not mean to neglect the credit, for example of Manzoni, in the literary circles and gatherings of his time, but just that literature was not a mass phenomenon, at least in the current meaning of the term. 

In Fermo and Lucia, 1821, the first rough draft of The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi), Manzoni perceived that the language used and the exposition were not realistic compared with his times, so he opted for the generic option of the Tuscan. In 1827, he made a trip to Florence where he stayed for four months, noting how the expressions of the Florentine nobility resembled those used by common people, so he chose the Florentine language. In 1840, the publication was definitive.

The Florentine vulgar, already used by the great Alighieri in The Divine Comedy, about five hundred years before - between 1306 and 1321, the dates about Dante are approximate - established the Tuscan dialect as the Italian language.

The Divine Comedy determined the birth of the poetic movement developed in Florence between the end of 1200 and 1310, called Dolce Stil Novo, which marks the transition from the vernacular language to a more refined and high style. Dante overcame his time not only for the immortality of his piece of work, but because with it, he went beyond an imaginary cultural bar.

Characterized by an allegorical form, the world in The Divine Comedy is divided between in an actual historical reality and the overworld, which is the same reality transferred on a moral and otherworldly level, this a lot before we had ever talked – nowadays in completely different circumstances – about the above world and the middle world. Forcing the terms, we can say that Dante broke through the wall of the real and the virtual already in 1300.

Joking aside, Alighieri and Manzoni can be equated because of their hard work and their desire to be understood. Doing a rapid calculation, Dante's work required about fourteen years of writing and study, the one of Manzoni, considering the first draft and the final publication, about nineteen.

The creative and language researches, the revisions, the documentation work, testify to the effort to elevate their works beyond the effective method of the respective epochs.

When it comes to giving advice to young writers, in my opinion, there is not too much to add, even if Dante and Don Alessandro do not represent a parameter (otherwise no one would write anything more). I quote them with extreme synthesis because they represent my scholastic reminiscences, aware that their incidence and their depth require much further study.

Arriving in our day (more or less), Jack Kerouac, On the road’s glorious author, led a life very similar to that of the characters he described and did not care about life itself; like him, Charles Bukowski: people went to literary readings to see Buk, waiting for him, hammered to the marrow, to throw a bottle on someone's head. Besides being appearance this too, and in this sense those were numbers included in the ticket, everything was authentic, first of all him, Bukowski.

Raymond Carver, even with the same alcohol problems as the other two, led a less nonconformist life, but the things he wrote were coherent with his life: stories of people in difficulty, struggling with an imminent danger, the almost physical role of the electrical appliance. His work was characterized by stylistic research, by omission or essentiality and yet the good ol’ Raymond did not like the minimalist label, a term in which he never recognized himself.

I often happened to hear artists, whose creative field is not writing, to affirm now I want to write a book, and all this reveals the unconscious consideration that many have of this artistic form, as if the approach to it were simple or trivial and all it takes is enough time to waste to deal with it.

At other times, more depressing, I heard the same concept out of the mouth of professionals who practice jobs pretty distant to any kind of creative expression.

The following are my personal advice to those who are preparing to write, but first of all I have a question: why doing it?

Many writers have spent a good part of their existence in severe tight circumstances, in poor health, waiting for a notoriety that reached them at old age; some simply had a short life.

If you really have to write, then, remember reading, coherence and authenticity; the patience. And to walk, because walking helps digestion but also reflection.

« Somebody at one of these places [...] asked me: "What do you do? How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it. »

Charles Bukowski

 


 © ENRICO MATTIOLI 2018


 


© Enrico Mattioli 2018