The future is a bad path – Interview with seven writers – part II

To celebrate the release of the two anthologies curated by Gian Filippo Pizzo – La cattiva strada (The Bad Path), published by Delmiglio, and Il prezzo del futuro (The Price Of the Future), published by La Ponga – we met him, together the two editorial directors Emanuele Del Miglio and Stefano Tevini, the translator Silvia Castoldi and four of the published authors – Italo Bonera, Piero Cavallotti, Marco Passarello and Dario Tonani. The interview was conducted by Irene Panighetti and Heiko H. Caimi.

Irene Panighetti (IP): Mr. Pizzo, what makes a piece of writing memorable? And what aspect of the short story you have written for La cattiva strada would you like the reader to remember?
Gian Filippo Pizzo
: First, I would like to point out that many believe that an anthology should never include a text written by its curator. To me, there is nothing wrong with it. It has already happened to me to insert one of my short stories in the anthology I was curating, because I thought that my text had its place in it. And because I wanted to show my point of view – not only in the preface, as an anthologist, but also as a narrator. My text is a noir short story that I have written after several episodes of rape in Rome. I have injected a lot of rage in it, even if I do not really show it when I write –  I am a very quiet person.

Heiko H. Caimi (HHC): Italo, you have submitted Brocco, un amico (Brocco, A Friend) for this anthology. This short story revives the cosmogony of the novel Io non sono come voi (I Am Not Like You) and the collection Cielo e ferro (Sky And Iron).
Italo Bonera
: Exactly. The world of Brocco, un amico echoed the setting of another anthology, but I had promised this story to Gian Filippo, so it appears here. I liked the idea of a naïve protagonist, a doomed victim – because if you are a good person, you are a victim – who is sacrificed, even if he is one of the minions of power. Evil and cruelty and Brocco’s traitor are on the other side, where the real power is. The “cruelty in power” is one of the most recurring themes in my work.

HHC: There is a short story by Pietro Cavallotti in both anthologies. In Il prezzo del futuro, the protagonist of the story titled Robin Hood is a hacker who manages to distribute wealth equally…
Piero Cavalotti:
It is the story of a hacker who cracks the shadow accounts of some multinational corporates and big tax evaders – we do not know how – and he distributes this terrific fortune to hundreds of millions of bank accounts owned by retired people, redundant and temporary workers. Writing this story was a catharsis for me, a way to materialize a fantasy I could not live out in the real world.

HHC: There is no Robin Hood in Te lo ricordi Mario? (Do You Remember Mario?), included in La cattiva strada, but we still find one between the lines…
Exactly. In this short story, that is not science-fiction and is not set in the future, a retired man is swindled by his bank – they sold him some Argentinian bonds one  time before and ruined him. His disgrace consumes him little by little, until death overtakes him. I have been asked what I wanted to convey with such a story. Only one thing: a lot of rage. Because I have been Mario myself, I have been swindled in the same way. So, a lot of rage against the power and against capitalism, which is less and less humane and unscrupulously infringes on the life and dignity of so many people.

HHC: Marco Passarello, you have written an extremely caustic short story for La cattiva strada. We can all relate to it: the protagonist is a man who is unhappy with his neighbours. Until the day he gets a phone call where he is asked to talk about them for a survey: he can eventually vent his anger, but his outburst shows its aftermath…
Marco Passarello:
The story dates back to Berlusconi’s ascension to power, when politics revolved around surveys – surveys carried out to justify political choices. I wanted this story to be a metaphor. The protagonist is afraid of everything and hates everything around him because he is an unlucky man with a narrow-minded vision of reality. He dumps all his hatred around him, guided by the mysterious voice that probes him over the phone. But this hatred comes back to him, because his world starts to resemble more and more to his vision. Like a feedback of fear and hatred that comes true.

IP: Have you enjoyed writing in the shoes of an evil character?
I like it, creating evil characters is absolutely entertaining. Partly because it is liberating. You can release some sides of your personality that are generally silenced: the character enables you live the wickedness you curb in real life. Evil is probably a more interesting subject of writing than good. It stimulates the fantasy, somehow. It is less spontaneous – we can be evil in so many ways.

IP: What is wickedness, if we can call it so? Can it generate a literary genre?
Dario Tonani:
La cattiva strada proofs that wickedness can be the cement of an anthology. The price to pay for being good is high, no fooling – dedication, fortitude, persistence. But evil is different. It is free and its value depends on what you can get out of it – you can win a ton of money or a ton of regrets. Every author has displayed something they normally confine to their intimacy, in their shyness. With this theme, Gian Filippo has brought out the worst of our souls: our best writing skills and our worst feelings.

IP: Would this work as a literary concept?
I do not know. After all, villains have always been part of the literature, since the Odyssey and the Iliad. Without bad guys, there would be no good guys. But there are no good characters here, and, by the way, they are the victims. There is no counterbalancing episode of virtue, no triumph of the good and not even a redemption of the sinner.

IP: What does being bad mean?
There are many aspects of it. Of course, we target those who cause harm to others. When we deal with meanness, we risk to turn the mean character into someone interesting. But for this anthology and for the other one as well, I wanted to write stories where the mean characters raise contempt, not interest.
Pizzo: I started this anthology using Piero’s and Delmiglio’s stories as examples. I focused on the wickedness of our society, of the economic and social power. Where there are many, there lies the power. And the unconsciousness of the multitude, too.
Tonani: To me, an evil character is twistedly interesting. Literature and cinema would be extremely monotonous and boring if they had nothing but good guys. On its own, malevolence holds at least a story. That is why we really enjoy creating evil characters. The good alone could not stand up: it needs a dark side that challenges it.
Pizzo: For this anthology, many authors told me: “No, I really do not want to write about wickedness, I am sorry”. Several told me that the theme did not suit them.

IP: But why would this attachment to bad guys be problematic?
It depends on the ones you are attached to. Personally, I really like this new trend in TV shows, especially in the American ones, where the bad guy is the protagonist. The ordinary villain, the antagonist, has tired us out – he is not deep enough. Being able to see the evil in us – internalizing the character and understanding what meanness is – is a really good skill, to me. For this reason, Breaking Bad – just to mention a TV series that everybody knows – is a real masterpiece: the protagonist Walter White is a normal guy who becomes a bad guy. And the viewer can wonder: “Would I do the same thing in that situation?” As I see it, this is what makes it worthwhile to side with and relate to evil characters: when we ask ourselves if their choices – that look so vile from above – are foreign or rather familiar to us.
Delmiglio: I believe that all evil characters share a lack of empathy, an all-encompassing inability to feel. Their wickedness can be justified or unjustified, active or passive. It inhabits the one that scratches the paint off your car and the one who turns his back when you collapse. There are many ways to be mean. And, no matter what, evil is interesting – and the press proves it. You will never read: “Champion of virtue retires after working for thirty years”.
Evil characters have always intrigued, because they are dangerous and mysterious.
Tonani: To complete what Emanuele said, I would like to make a comparison between evil and darkness. Darkness is more tempting than light, where everything appears the way it is. There is mystery in darkness, there is the desire of the subject to see certain things, to hear them, to touch them, to smell them. The evil character reproduces the darkness, which is very seducing, while the light of the good is so still. He lives between the entrance and the exit of the tunnel – a reign of mystery, threat and ambush. He evokes the dark side, the shadows, the impossibility to seize his real essence, his profile, his silhouette. In this sense, I believe that darkness and evil characters are two sides of the same coin. And it is also the reason why they generate such great interest and fondness.

Here you can read the first part of the interview:

Translation by Chiara Forlani (edited by Amy Scarlett Holt)
Interview editing by Alice Corrò