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Finding One’s Way as a Writer: A Sequence of Letters

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 1, 2013
pp. 44-59 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0045

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

To Mario Motta—Rome

Turin, 16–1–50

Dear Mario,

If I didn’t reply straightaway it was because I was going through a moment of terror—a check-up for military service, the third one in eight months. Now it’s over—postponed for four months again, but since this is now the third time it should mean there’s a strong chance that I’ll be exempt and my “de-kafkaization” can go ahead. I would like this to signal the end of “wasted angst” in my life: I’ve never regretted anything so much as having particular individual worries, in a certain sense anachronistic ones, whereas general worries, worries about our time (or at any rate those that can be reduced to such: like your problem in paying the rent, for instance) are so many and so vast and so much “my own” that I feel they are enough to fill all my “worryability” and even my interest and enjoyment in living.

So from now on I want to dedicate myself entirely to these latter (worries)—but I am already aware of the traps in this question and that’s why for some time now my first need has been to “de-journalistize” myself, to get myself out of the stranglehold that has dominated these last few years of my life, reading books to review immediately, commenting on something even before having the time to form an opinion on it. I want to build a new kind of daily program for myself where I can finally get into something, something definitive (within the limits of historical possibility), something not dishonest or insincere (unlike the way today’s journalist always behaves, more or less). For that reason I make several plans for myself: even to lead the [communist] party political life, which is something I’d abandoned for some time, at the grassroots level, working with party branches, the party’s schools, in order to maintain my contacts with reality and the world, but being careful, of course, not to get lost in unnecessary activities; and also to set up my own individual work not as a “journalist” any more but as a “scholar,” with systematic readings, notes, comments, notebooks, a load of things I’ve never done; and also, eventually, to write a novel.

I can already see you twisting on your chair reading this letter, full of worries (worries more about “our time” than ever) about getting this journal out, and me coming out with New-Year resolutions. Hang on: this was all just to tell you that things being as they are (in other words, I being as I am), I can only consider contributing to your journal as a point of arrival, an end result, not a commitment or point of departure. In short, in order not to torture you any more, I’ll probably be able to deliver in May (or April?) = in short, I’ll probably begin working in March on the article on Hemingway.

[. . .]

Hemingway. More than an article on H. it will be something on our encounter with H., the way our generation of Italians approaches him, on H.’s usefulness to us (as well as our utilization or use of him). It’s a serious business; I’ve not got my ideas clear yet. I think I’ll have to start first with an exhaustive account of the meaning of America for anti-Fascist intellectuals who grew up under Fascism. I’ve been thinking a bit about these things, about America, about “that” America, reading and discussing the writings of Giaime Pintor (at present through Valentino [Gerratana]’s introduction, then later I’ll read them when they’re printed). This is perhaps something that would deserve a separate essay, to explain so many things (Pavese, Vittorini, Balbo [on “technique,” on “heroes without glory”], Pintor [the Pintor of Americana] and then the whole Politecnico phenomenon). The Russian–American alliance was the fundamental condition for the “communistization” of Italian intellectuals in the avant-garde, and the end of that alliance has also counted for a lot. Now both “Russia” and “America” represented a collection of Italian data and aspirations, they were...

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