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  • Un altro mondo: interview with Paola  Capriolo, Milan, November 1996

    Ania, GF

    Title Un altro mondo: interview with Paola Capriolo, Milan, November 1996

    Authors Ania, GF

    Type Article

    URL This version is available at: http://usir.salford.ac.uk/1778/

    Published Date 1998

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  • ‘Un altro mondo’:

    Interview with

    Paola Capriolo.*

    Milan, November 1996

    Gillian Ania

    The novelist and translator, Paola Capriolo, was born in 1962, in Milan, where she lives today.

    The daughter of a Ligurian theatre critic and prolific translator, and a Turinese artist, she has a

    rich cultural background on which to draw, broadened by her studies at Milan University

    where she read philosophy, studying especially the German tradition. It was during her time

    at University that she was inspired to write fiction seriously, and so began her writing career.

    Her first book, La grande Eulalia, a collection of four short stories with a magical,

    fairy-tale-like quality, was published in 1988 (Milan, Feltrinelli) and immediately attracted

    the attention of critics, with a host of exceptionally favourable reviews appearing in the press.

    Capriolo has since written five novels: Il nocchiero (Milan, Feltrinelli, 1989), the story of

    Walter, his job of ferrying an unknown cargo each night across to an island and his attraction

    to a mysterious ‘braccio’, glimpsed in a hotel cafe; Il doppio regno (Milan, Bompiani, 1991),

    whose protagonist records how she fled a tidal wave and sought refuge in a bizarre hotel in

    which she experiences a gradual metamorphosis of her identity; Vissi d'amore (Milan,

    * I am most grateful to Paola Capriolo for granting permission to publish this interview and reproduce the photograph, and I should like to thank Simona Rizzardi for her helpful suggestions on the ‘raw’ version of this transcript and Brian Moloney for his useful comments on the near final version.


  • Bompiani, 1992), the story of Puccini’s Tosca, but with important changes, principally

    regarding the portrayal of Scarpia; La spettatrice (Milan, Bompiani, 1995), in which we have

    an actor who lives out his obsession with watching and being watched; and L’uomo di

    carattere (Milan, Bompiani, 1996), which portrays the struggle of man against nature, and

    against his own nature.1 Capriolo’s fiction explores philosophical and metaphysical issues,

    such as perceptions of reality, personal identity, and the mutability of meaning, discusses

    religious themes, and exposes the power of the individual imagination. The stories all tend to

    assume a banal, possibly irrelevant past; something then occurs to upset an established pattern

    and provoke a transformation, which, though it may be gradual, is dramatic, irrevocable, and

    generally fatal. Whilst each work is naturally an individual entity, I have been interested to

    discover and explore thematic and imagistic links between the stories, and this provides the

    basis for my line of investigation in the interview.

    Capriolo draws principally on her German cultural heritage. She is rooted in this tradition

    quite consciously, something which sets her apart from the majority of Italian writers; she has

    the necessary linguistic ability to read works of literature and philosophy in the original

    German, and in addition to publishing reviews in the press, has translated novels by Mann,

    Goethe and Keller.2 I see Capriolo as belonging to a rich, European, modernist tradition for

    her treatment of illusion and reality, myth, destiny, liberty, and alienation, and the emphasis

    on isolation, imagination and introspection: reviewers have compared her with authors such

    as Mann, Borges, Kafka, Buzzati and Calvino, and she herself recognizes a particular affinity

    with Mann, and with Gottfried Benn and Rilke. Capriolo’s work has received much acclaim

    in Italy, she has been awarded several literary prizes, and she is beginning to attract the

    attention of scholars further afield: Lawrence Venuti has reviewed her work in the Times

    1 Capriolo’s most recent works are a ‘racconto lungo’, Con i miei mille occhi (Milan, Bompiani, 1997), which is accompanied by a CD of music by Alessandro Solbiati, and the novel Barbara (Milan, Bompiani, 1998). 2 See below, n. 11.


  • Literary Supplement, and Sharon Wood has devoted a section to her in Italian Women’s

    Writing 1860-1994 (London, The Athlone Press, 1995). Whilst I would concede that

    Capriolo’s linguistic style could not be classed as experimental or innovative, I would take

    issue with Claudia Bernardi who recently dismissed her style, together with that of other new

    writers, as ‘uninteresting from the linguistic point of view’, citing the opinion of Nanni

    Balestrini who believes that these writers ‘rasserenano il lettore, senza inquietarlo e porgli

    problemi’ and that their works are ‘opere anestetiche, piccole droghe per evadere dalla

    realtà’.3 On the contrary, Capriolo’s work often reveals a very clever use of language, with

    hidden multi-faceted symbols and motifs, such as those of the pyramid, bracelet, and mirror,4

    and contains a maze of literary and musical echoes and intertextual resonances. Her choice of

    the ‘romanzo breve’ or ‘racconto lungo’ may suggest that, rather than construct a world, she

    desires to dissolve or deconstruct reality, which includes language.5 The role of the reader, as

    Capriolo tells me, is very important, her ideal reader being one who reads and rereads, which

    corresponds with her imaginative, carefully-constructed prose. While at times we may feel

    that Capriolo has succumbed to the temptation of being over-explicit, more often she intends

    her readers to delve beneath the surface of the page, to interpret the written word and

    penetrate the ambiguities and enigmas, perhaps rather as if they were interpreting a piece of

    music. In my view, the lively pace of her narrative, the intermingling of fantastic and realist

    elements, her bizarre locations, and her intriguing, idiosyncratic characters make for

    compelling reading. I further believe that Capriolo’s fiction, far from reassuring the reader, is

    both disquieting and thought-provoking: we frequently encounter a vivid sense of

    3 See Claudia Bernardi, ‘Pulp and Other Fictions: Critical Debate on the New Italian Narrative’, Bulletin of the Society for Italian Studies, 30 (1997), pp. 5-6. 4 See sections below on ‘Immagini ricorrenti’ and on ‘Domande specifiche’ relating to Il doppio regno. 5 The manager of the hotel of Il doppio regno is an exponent of such deconstruction. He tells Cara, for example, that there is no plan of the hotel, and that ‘i termini “interno” and “esterno” non significano nulla, sono puramente convenzionali’ (p. 29). When Cara asks if he can read the hotel’s library books, his reply is: ‘Sí e no, signora, dipende dal senso che vogliamo attribuire al termine “leggere”’ (p. 48). In this work, as well as in La


  • disorientation, as the characters engage almost perversely in quests to find meaning in their

    isolated and impersonal worlds with dramatic and fatal consequences. Capriolo appears to

    hint, in the majority of her stories, that the peace of an ordinary life may be shattered if either

    we or those closest to us are caught up by a force, compelled along a narrow channel from

    which it is impossible to escape or deviate, and are thus ‘lost’. This is a process, as we see in

    Il nocchiero or Il doppio regno, which gently lulls the character into another rhythm, one

    which can only lead to a dulling of awareness, of sensitivity, and of a sense of responsibility,

    if not to a total annihilation of the self. Readers of Capriolo, then, rather than feeling that they

    are escaping from reality, may instead be shocked into an awareness of the potential dangers

    of going along with the current, of living with a false sense of security or of pursuing

    relentlessly a misguided ideal of perfection. The holocaust could happen again, in other words,

    with different people, in a different age, and in different circumstances. If we choose not to

    ‘see’, not to react, we may save ourselves, that is, continue to be drugged or numbed into a

    course of safe non-resistance, like Cara; or we may look into the abyss and be channelled into

    a search for meaning, for something deeper, more like Adele or Vulpius, with equal