Italy as a Muse: A Conversation with Novelist ANDRÉ ACIMAN

Oana serum welcome to New York University has italiana the de Lima Lima it's a great pleasure to welcome back our friends of the Belasco foundation it's a long-standing collaboration by now and it's about two events a year sometimes more and we really enjoy the opportunity to work with the Belasco foundation because it's for us a chance to see some of the fellows that they brought to Belasco that include a vast array of people and the president of the foundation is going to tell us something more about it why cause it has italiana doing these things and the simple answer is that we want to help and we want to be here for any Foundation Association organization that is serious important and that works with the head and with the heart to do things with Italy and that's what the Velasco foundation does and we are supporting the same way Friends of Phi say Venice and different other American based or Italian based organizations that promote the Italian cultural heritage so thank you to Laura Harrison for what the foundation does on a very personal note I'm very very pleased to have a chance to welcome back to Casa italiana at John Carr Lombardi an underestimate and I was talking with Andre upstairs before and I remember he was here for the presentation of another book I'm not going to mention names hundred relax and his book out of Egypt had been published was already an international success but it had not been published in Italy yet and I asked him why and said he's one of the Italian complicated confused things and he says no there is only one answer and it's very precise and I didn't investigate but we can actually report now that this return of undertook as Italian also marks is full reconciliation with Italy also because the film based on his new novel is made by an Italian director and I think probably you're going to talk also about that and without further ado I would like to ask the president of the Polish ask a foundation to come greet you and officially introduce our guest please welcome Laura Harrison thank you thank you Stefano well our enormous thanks to Kathy Tatyana we love this partnership – I think this might be our sixth event with you we've been doing it for a few years now for us it's a tremendous opportunity to be able to use this incredibly beautiful space here attica italiana to share work that was developed in residence in Velasco with the new york public we're deeply grateful for this and hope we can continue for as long as possible I also want to send a quick thanks as always to my wonderful New York colleagues in the office here in New York who work so hard to put these events together on mobile and Jennifer Downey we couldn't do it without you thank you so this year actually the Velasco foundation we've been celebrating our 20th anniversary this year this event tonight in fact is one of the final events in a series of events that we've been doing to celebrate 20 years and in all this time our mission has stayed basically the same which is to support arts and humanities and international cultural exchange via our residency program in Bali ASCO in Italy for artists and scholars our program provides ideal work conditions and encourages cross-pollination in a very diverse community made up of some of the world's most innovative minds a very interesting diverse group of both artists and scholars which is quite important to our program one of the hallmarks of our program is facilitating meaningful conversation both in our fellows community over in Glasgow and via our outreach program with events like tonight's here so we are very pleased to have with us tonight only a human and dumb Catalan oddity in conversation talking about on raise novels that have been set in Italy in particular his most recent book Enigma Variations which was developed in part doing his residency in Velasco in the fall of 2016 he will also I believe I hope be talking about the book that was from I think 2007 call me by your name which this year was made into a feature film by Luc Awad and you know and in fact I think is supposed to come out later this year I believe in New York but meanwhile it premiered to great acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in Berlin and many others no doubt and has gotten many accolades so I know many of us are very curious to hear more about that experience a few words a few brief words about our speakers Andre a seaman is a distinguished professor of comparative literature as the Graduate Center of CUNY he's written a number of books including out of Egypt which chronicles his childhood in Alexandria he's a frequent contributor to the New York Times to the New Republic the New York Review of Books among others no doubt I believe he's working on a new novel and a collection of essays if I'm not mistaken John cattle embody be also a professor at the Graduate Center of Italian French also comparative literature I understand that you have written extensively about European and North American women writers about Italian cinema and television studies also cultural studies in the most recent book I believe is about Italian political cinema and he's working right now on a new publication about rhetoric fear of rhetoric of fear the rhetoric of fear in Italian television dramas of the 1960s and 70s I think I got that right so quite curious about that too in any case there will be a Q&A following the conversation a reception upstairs following that I hope you'll join us for both and now please join us in welcoming onto the a seaman and Don Carlo Lombardi [Applause] okay ah thank you so much Lauren Thank You Stefano and thank you to the to the Belasco foundation I think that the biggest challenge here will be for us to have a formal conversation because Andrew and I work together and I see there three other students and we've been working together now for a decade and we have a lot of conversations in many different forms none of which ends is Janice they all friend will go from one line email to one line email to one line email or text messages or whatsapp's or whatever it is but certainly we were joking about the fact yesterday that 1965 happens to be a crucial year in our lives I was born in 1965 and Andre arrived in Rome in 1965 that's the city where I was born so actually let's begin our conversation with Rome 1965 and what that means to you where Rome 1965 I just arrived as a refugee from Egypt my whole family had been kicked out of Egypt so we had basically nowhere to go we went to Italy because we had relatives in Italy and because my father in his wisdom had bought the Italian citizenship which you could do and you probably can still do if you know people but I don't know people that I guess you Georgia forgive me for this I'm going to be dead after this but so we arrived in Italy and my uncle had an apartment which was really a gas Anya okay and so it was we didn't know this but my mother and my brother and I we sort of settled in that apartment and occasionally we would get calls for girls and I mean I had no idea what was going on with nobody had told me but they were kind of loose calls but in any event my my arrival in Rome is the lady of the Bach tiara said brunette elections over and I I didn't understand what that she knew or it was because I knew some Italian but it was very elementary and Roman was just beyond me I couldn't understand a word of Roman which I got to love much much later but at that period I didn't understand what anybody was saying to me because Roman is sometimes if you're not used to it totally unfathomable they might as well be speaking Sicilian so in in essence but we arrived we were very very poor there was no money anywhere and so we lived at basically with the generosity of a large family and we were invited to the beach to go to the beach who usually I was used to hosting people at our beach house now I was a guest at somebody else's beach house which is not an easy thing to do in other words you have to switch roles and ultimately you end up how also having to switch identities you have to understand what it is how do you know when you've been to a party and that the party is over and now you have to leave when you are host you know exactly what to do you know you give our signals but you're not if you're not very good at capting those signals if you are the reception the receiver of them so we would stay at parties and not leave and not know what to do have was their sign was there no sign of course we were but my first experience of Italy was I we hated it I wanted nothing to do with it I didn't even want to speak to anyone and for a good portion of my first year in Italy I went to an American school I would go to the school come back home and lock myself up and all I did was read books so in essence that was my introduction to world literature there was no end of books to read clearly but I was a very fast reader and all I did was read books as a book after book in order not to have to deal his role and that lasted for about a year but then how did he change over the years because you were there for quite a few years or years I was there for three so I mean did you see an integration and how was it well it happened I think one day when I went I used to all I did was on Saturdays and Sundays there was no school and Italians go to school on Saturday they still do that yesterday so I would have I really had like a free city for myself on Saturday mornings and I would go to all I did is go downtown to the center of the city which I loved and grew to love and go to see museums by myself and also go to bookstores and eventually come back home with a few books that I wanted to read that week but it is on one of those events that I happened to stray by pure chance into Piazza Navona I never I never knew there was it yes I knew the Colosseum the Vatican that's it which is what every tourist knows but Piazza Navona I had never heard of it and I just ended up in Piazza Navona and I was kind of wow what is this and I sat down and an old gentleman spoke to me I have no read no idea why he spoke to me but he was quite elderly of course he must have been like what 40 or something uh uh-oh you date everybody he was about to die anyway and and so he he began to tell me who are you what are you it might have been a pickup but I have absolutely no sense of that and he started telling me the history of the Piazza Navona yeah one fountain after the other one statue after the other it must have lasted to eat two hours but I realized at that moment I'm in a special place this is a magnificent place and I've got to learn it and basically every weekend and if particularly Saturday's was devoted to the city and I eventually you fall in love with something without even knowing it because I continued to hate it okay which is something that I always do I continue to hate you but meanwhile I adore you but I'm not not aware of it so you lived in Italy but you had a very strong rapport with France and with Paris how did you mediate the tomb the Train did you go there a lot well the irony is that my mother was really of French descent and she lived in Italy and my father who was was a man who bought the passport what italian lived in france he didn't want to live with my mother clearly and and so we would go and visit him on holidays take the train that long winded train which took almost a whole day to get to Paris but it was in very uncomfortable but we would do that what it did to me I mean I was brought up speaking French at home I went to an English school which became eventually an American school and and now I was living in Italy which didn't feel like my real home but it was an acquired home and eventually you know things that are grafted on you eventually stick and the my love for France was never really that genuine anyway how could it be okay so we would go to France and then come back to Rome and go back and forth on holidays and at home we spoke French that's that's a given but our schooling was all in ink and so it was all very confusing yet Italian culture was a presence in your life since the time that you moved there and he remained with you I mean I know that you know from our conversations I know how steeped you are in Italian culture and when I talk about Italian culture I'm talking about Italian culture though levels mean Andrea is a real connoisseur when it comes to judging pop music for instance you will see that his writings are disseminated with little gems for the Italian pop connoisseur and how did that come about I mean how did you experience that aspect of Italy well I mean as you know the Senate mo festival was a big event in Italy it was something that even when we were in living in Egypt we used to listen to it and so in Italy of course you wanted to hear this under Remo Festival we didn't have a TV we did have the radio so the songs would come up on the radio all the time and we were very involved and I loved Italian rock and Italian pop music and that stayed but eventually I also got to I fell totally in love with Neapolitan songs and eventually sometimes I do walk into your office and I will say something like we could all go together to a funeral but no you can't and of course it takes me a minute and then constantly doing this and we're next door this is a very famous Italian song donkey or not – no anyway we do this awesome so but my love of the Neapolitan music is I mean I think it is actually part of who I am at this point and I write about that but it is for me Italy is it's it's a grafted world that I was never expecting to love and it's interesting because this is also the time that in Italy there are some French singers and some French singers of North African descent who are actually singing in Italian so you have Dalida and you have fruit Francois but also you have mean of air air for instance was extremely popular singing in Italian and it sort of must've brought your three worlds together in a way in many ways songs these simple songs managed to capture something about me and and made me feel as you said very much at home because and is this eventually happened when I heard the music of Joe Shuster key which came out a few years later yeah but mistake he was really he was singing my music this was me he was talking about and of course you don't want to say that publicly but here I am doing it okay but in in essence some of those and Claude Francois and of course that he died with her screaming voice but there was no question that every time a major success came from North Africa I felt a sense of I was to accept more at home in Europe and in Italy particularly so when you arrived in the States so you went to school at Harvard ah what was the role of Italy back then well in in I didn't go to Harvard directly I went to to Lehman College which cost for those of you need to know thirty dollars a semester I couldn't resist you know at uni so we're advertising right now but eventually when I got to Harvard I I met a lot of Italians for some reasons there was it they may have felt lost I was not that lost because I was Americanized and they felt that I spoke Italian or some Italian and they were so we became instant friends and until today I have a friend who lives in Cambridge who never left Harvard and he week Ora spawned quite often and I always asking questions about Italian and the use of Italian because he's a linguist and then he comes back with a long-winded answer about grammar but I love Italian and one of the it's funny the other thing is that my grandmother went when she she grew up in Istanbul and she ended up going to the sister the nuns in Italian nuns who taught school and so she knew all the prayer only she was Jewish of course but she knew all the other Catholic prayers but she also knew grammar especially well and so she always insisted always insisted so the way the nouveau riche will insist that I use a subjunctive correctly course if you're comfortable with who you are you don't care about the subjunctive but my grandmother cared about the subjunctive so was always correcting me with the stupid subjunctive which now is grafted into me so I can never say poop keo five fat sure no no so you always correct yourself and well Italian politicians are being crucified today that we are not using the subjunctive right and if they're vilified we had via Twitter on a regular basis well so I mean that spirit is still alive and well let's actually jump to your writings and and you know and let's because for instance Harvard Square is one of the novel's where easily is really not present at all no where as call me by your name which is your your first novel the novel that receives so much attention from the moment it comes out is Italian in so many ways so what kind of Italy were you portraying there and why did you decide to set it in Italy and in that specific area of Italy with the specific areas because I loved it I discovered it again whenever you do something by chance it must mean something and in others all my prejudices which I loved with me my students will swear to this I bring all my prejudices to class and with me wherever I go but sometimes I don't carry them with me and I'm unprepared and suddenly I see something I say oh my god this is nice this is this is okay and I was passing by train from and I said this story many times I was singing a train from Rome to Paris and the train usually drowns around north Tuscany all of Liguria and then goes on into mode on and so on and that particular passage for me was magnificent I loved it so eventually I got off by pure chance I was with a girlfriend and we saw this place called natal yes it looks nice so I said let's get off that's kind of it we didn't have a hotel reservation I said the worst comes to worst we'll sleep on the beaches okay the funny thing is that there are really no their rocky beaches hello so I was speaking out of turn but we got off the train it was nighttime already I said she poked the owner there to go and the guy took us to this hotel which was absolutely magnificent on the sea and the next day we took a long walk which is the first time that I saw Bali ASCO I walked from negative Alaska which is what 10 15 minutes and discovered this town called bully ASCO and I said oh I'd like to return here it took me 40 years though 30 years but eventually it did happen but then I also I discovered that there was a place that Monet used to like which was called bob de guerra and so i couldn't decide where to orient this novel but i knew that it had to be in italy because whenever you speak of the census you can't speak of new york yeah I needed something that was lush all around perfume tactile sunset everything had to be very sort of sensual and so I wanted to place it in Italy but I couldn't decide so without being able to decide whether it was bowling score above the gate I decided to call it B okay and I wasn't trying to be obscure I was just undecided and people say that town of B you know I went to visit Italy where they may not be that one it might be the other one so anyway but for me Italy is and it's the same thing with Enigma Variations the one story that everybody sort of immediately reacts to because it's so in the gut it's so sensual takes place in some little town that I baptized son juste Indiana which does not exist by the way so it's it's really so easily runs in fact there are there are important parallels between between call me by your name and an enigma variations that are not just Italy and the setting it's also there are important father figures in both in both novels and you know the father figures of the two protagonists of both novels and they're both Italian how do you connect these two figures Elias father and and and the empowers father they're both very similar because they're they're very much like my father my father was a I don't think anybody has met my father did you meet my father I'm addressing one person in particular yes no she never met my father no my father was a was a a man of the world put it this way I think there's nothing he had not tried at least once and he was very open-minded and there was nothing nothing that you could say that could shock him and at the same time he was extremely urbane and very secular and the whole thing and and I liked that kind of a father figure and I hope I be I turned out to be one as well is to be extremely tolerant and always curious about what is out there and so I wanted when in the case of call me by your name the which will speak maybe about this but the role of the father is done so favorably excellently well the father surprises the son by telling him that you know I've been aware that this thing between you and Oliver was not just a friendship it was more than a friendship and the son goes Oh God he knows and but in the father says you know no don't kill it don't feel that you need to stifle it let it grow let it exist and this is a speech that a lot of people have written to me about saying you know I wish my father had been like this I mean it basically would have changed our relationship all together in my whole life maybe but there are fathers who are like this and I'm very lucky to have had a father who was open-minded about everything there was nothing that he didn't tolerate and I wanted the same I took it a step for with poor father and with Paul's father in Enigma Variations and it I don't want to give it away so but yeah there's there's a really neat mother yeah he's unveiled the the fun and there's also the fact that the son is possibly attracted to his father yeah which is something nobody ever talks about because we'll we're all very comfortable talking about the attraction of his son for his mother but never for the attraction of his son for the father that is a real table we don't go there so how do you link desire the senses and Italy because they are tightly linked in your writings they are and in fact for me it would be impossible to write something that is so to call it visceral or to code so down-to-earth so sensuous and sensual to write it elsewhere would not before I couldn't even write the story it would have to be placed in Italy that was actually a bit about your reconciliation with Italy that has occurred this past few years you returned your your recent returns to Italy well it has to do with the fact that I was I don't know if I should go public with this because they final started it so I don't but it is like 100 what are watching oh then I thank you for telling me this though but come on I'm soaked in my dream we're being stream okay the the real reason is that I felt that there was an injustice done and that I was not being I was not being translated into Italian and I wanted to be translated into Italian it was the only language I really cared about French I self was an automatic event which is not true any longer but in Italy I felt that why are they taking so many years to translate my books which are so visibly Mediterranean and there is one reason but it's a petty reason that I won't mention it since we're going public with this but it has nothing to do with me okay it has to do with one individual but eventually somebody came up and sort of manifested itself and said I will buy this book and he paid a lot of money for the book which was surprising for me and ever since then I've been invited by him or through the fier a or through other organizations to go to it I go to Italy at least once a year now because of the publication's of my books in Italy and it makes me very happy so there is no real reconciliation but the fact that I'm there all the time makes me feel that you know now we have to think to want to buy a place here I mean it's it's it's really my it's my ultimate home I mean New York is a wonderful place and I feel very at home in New York but I don't think it's ever been my home whereas in Italy I walk down the street yeah this is it so after having written a great amount about Italy here comes Luca Guadagnino through the words of James ivory because ivory wrote the screenplay with your help um and we look at still by the way and with regalia and and out of the blue you see your words in front of you in images so how has that experience been how has it been how have you been able do you have you experienced a sort of letting go in terms of letting someone else refashion give a vision to your work um I let go as soon as we signed the contract okay I just knew that from hearing so many stories of miss adapted or badly adapted or perceived as badly adapted films that I didn't want to be one of those authors who's always complaining that look what they did to my up okay so I just didn't want to be that kind so I I let go right away and I had a feeling that Luca would was really doing the right thing and and I just felt right I saw the script I said there are a couple of things that I might change but I don't want to get involved in this and the film is very faithful to the movie to the point where all the key dialogues are really taken from the book I wanted to mention one thing one scene in particular because I was told when I arrived on the set I was only there for three days and they said to me why don't you come to the set as I said fine I'll come to the set and they said well look at once you under set right now so from Milan Airport we took it we were driven to the set itself of course I'm totally jet-lagged okay but one thing I do notice as the actors are sort of rehearsing and really filming Andrey filming the same scene I say this is the most difficult scene for me to have written I remember writing this scene and it's a very key scene where a Leo the young kid of 17 year old tells Oliver who's 24 that he's he cares about him and I didn't want him to say I love you I didn't want him to say I'm attracted to you I didn't want him to say anything like that I was going with a model that comes up for those of you who remember as I scene said when she alludes to Hippolytus her stepson but she might have hoped that he might have had the occasion to save her from the Minotaur and that his father who saved her from the Minotaur might have had the aspect of the son and of course the son here's all this and he says madam I tremble at what I hear and she says I hope I'm misunderstanding and she says you have not misunderstand me you idiot anyway the the reason why I mentioned all this is that I wanted it to be very very muted and tacit and easily sort of what is it though taken back confession of love and I didn't want any word to be said and so here I arrived and there they are rehearsing the very scene that I was not in easy scene to write and they are doing it beautifully every one of them I say this is perfect no it's not they have to redo it and so they kept redoing it eventually they got it very well and it's amazing how your words that you've written on paper in a room on in on the Upper West Side suddenly appear in a little town called crema outside of Milan where a young man called you know Timothy sha'lame is actually acting out the part that you had a hard time writing and hearing it beautifully I mean absolutely magnificent rewording of everything I said so I couldn't have been happier so there was nothing to let go because I was accepting as this is exactly what I wanted how do you I mean you're call me by your name is a psychological novel and there's it certainly is not a novel full of dialog but there's a lot of internal discussions and internal and and and so it doesn't immediately come across as a know that you would see on the screen you would feel that some of it might be lost a good point that some of the internal turmoil that is so excruciating ly well discussed in your novel that is so stunned Allen and concise declare and post that there are so many of your authors who are so clearly there in your writing how did it go from that to the screen I think to be honest it was not the script or the screenplay was not the only thing it had to do with the actors and which means also the director yeah and what they did is they didn't speak that much but it was the way that they looked at each other the way that you could see pain there's there's a very famous scene in my book and everybody mentions it and I will not name it but it involves with fruit and those of you who are laughing you understand what I'm talking about they had the fruit scene in the movie and which is done very very well and that's um point armie hammer who plays a beautiful really beautifully decides that he wants to eat the fruit and a leo prevents him from eating it and they're struggling and he says you're hurting me hurting me and suddenly suddenly and this is better than the book a Lea bursts out crying and he bursts out crying and hugs Oliver in a way that seemed so I mean it was so spontaneous and so right and so absolutely the the expression of love itself was in that moment no author could capture that no other could do that and this was just the cinema doing it so so I mean something like that happens to you I mean you know you get to see your novel into a film and the film is incredibly well received I mean this is a this is a film that has been well received at s Stefano and Laura were saying at the most important festivals at Berlin it was basically the most important film that they had they're talking about Oscars already but it seems to be the film of but Annie knows career and at the same time you get a nigma variations that comes out right at the same time and these two these two works speak to one another yes how you know for instance I have very fresh in my mind the fantastic review that you got from the New York Times for Enigma Variations that says yes there are some elements that we have already seen in call me by your name but this time with a different voice how have you changed how has your writing changed and how has your how has your storytelling changed because one of the really important elements of Enigma Variations is the work you do on the novel as a genre I mean it's a really important it's a challenge for the reader yet you and I discussed this because I remember writing to you the moment I finish reading Enigma Variations I was in Rome during Christmas vacation I was basically stuck in bed I could not get out until I was done and then I had to write to you immediately Enigma Variations has this incredible power of interpolating you as a reader and of hitting you really strong like it's a punch in the stomach but it doesn't do it in the in the traditional way because it is not a traditional novel and it's uni you're not an experimental writer yet you are there is a very there's a very interesting work there being done with the genre itself the genre is always open to being reinvented that's a good thing it's unfortunate that a lot of people basically plod along 19th century lines as we are speaking right now okay so this is a fault that needs to be corrected somehow no but to go back to what I'm trying to do on the on the level of plot what interests me is is I think one thing only and it's not even love and it's not even desire because desire is in nice clean word what I really write about is wanting and wanting someone and wanting someone without knowing what you plan to do with them or what exactly you want from them you just want them and it stays at that very very raw level and one of the things that is difficult to do is that wanting is a devastating emotion a lot of people would use the word neurosis obsessing etc it's not it just you want someone and you cannot get that someone out of your head and I think that's what the book is about it's about suddenly developing these unforeseen wants that you need to pursue and you don't know if you're allowed to if you're entitled to if it's going to be dangerous what is the other person going to think all these inhibitions are in the way but somehow I think my can are very lucky because they at some point they just muster up with the force to do something to cross the theme so the Forbidden Zone and to go into and to say look I want tell us about your writing process and how you know how a novel like that came about the novel is came about because I wrote the last story first which was which was called I think Abington square it's about a in editor who has a crush on a young writer who's extremely dynamic and she's much much younger and he is sort of in her thrall he's totally his whole life now becomes obsessed with her and he doesn't want to do the indelicate thing but he does do something which we all do is what am I going to do with this person tonight I'm going to take her out to dinner then I'm going to say this then I'm going to hope that this will happen but I cannot spend the night with her and as a reader you don't know why he cannot spend the night with her and so he's basically saying and he says but of course all this could turn out badly I might have to walk back the same way I came here totally with my tail between my legs and and eventually and he says at some point this is exactly what happened to me when I was a young kid and that is when the idea came to me to start to tell the story of his being a young kid totally having a crush on a man not even a woman and and feeling that at some point the guy says I forget we should fight Bravo vacasa via Casa basically sort of repudiating all his advances and this is exactly our then so in between these two sort of poles the story of a man who simply has these phenomenal crushes on people and doesn't know what to do with them so I just let's conclude actually on the title itself you know because call me by your name anyone was read the novel know that it's the core of the novel it's a very important sentence that the two characters the two protagonists exchanged but the Enigma Variations is not exactly something that jumps at you from reading the novel so what made you call it like that what is your interpretation of the title it's the only title that I ever picked because every time I pick a title the publisher the editor was in matter come on seriously no yeah so and I always go along because I think editors know their job they're always right I'm always wrong and then but this time I said the book is called Enigma Variations as I said we love the title Enigma Variations it refers to two things at least one is to the piece by Sir Edward Elgar which is if it's it's basically variations that are enigmatic because you don't know what the source melody is it is it is absconded totally it doesn't exist perhaps and so L got like to play the idea and every variation is devoted to a particular person that was dear to Elgar himself so that you have these variations and I think somatically it has to do with the the ways that paul paulie or paolo he has three names in the book which they all variations of each other if you didn't get the point okay the the idea is that you know he has different crushes or different loves on with different people and each one is a variation on something that we don't know what it is so there is an absence that is always there so we don't know if there's not going to be other variations coming up the other one is there is a moment in which in the novel itself you should never for those of you have experienced this if you find out somebody's login and password don't tell them that you know that because even if they worship you they will change it and so this reminds anybody who knows ooh you know that when the Brits broke the German Enigma code they could not say anything or do anything that would suggest to the Germans that's god they must have known we were coming so they broke our code so they had to allow the Germans to bomb towns like the town of Coventry so that the Germans would never know that their code had been broken and it happens I think once in the novel where he this was spying on his girlfriend and he says what if I find that out do I tell her or should I not know I better not tell her because then she'll know that I know and and some so the notion of enigma is is circulating throughout the whole novel okay so I guess that we can open the floor to questions from the audience yes oh I came to New York because I was I didn't want to go to it this was 1968 I was thinking of going to school in Paris and that was not a good year to go to school in Paris and and the same thing happened in July in Rome as well so I didn't feel that I wanted to go to unit plus you know if I stayed in Italy I felt that I would have to go back two or three years in high school and therefore I didn't want to lose those three years so I decided to apply to American colleges and came the Bronx Community College turned me down I mean they must have had some kind of quota because I was turned down by everybody except for Lehman College so it's fine so I went to Lehman I didn't care and events so that's why I came to New York I read I think my parents did a heroic thing they came to the United States they didn't want to come they had no business being here they liked Europe my mother loved Italy and my father sort of was growing to accept the fact that he might come back to Italy too and live with his wife which was not a good idea for him but evening I'm not sort of competent to answer that question but I can certainly say that if you read a story called first loved by two genious you will find that the this object of the love can be mysterious it could be also the father who is in love with and there is a moment at the end of the story of my first love where the son looks at a picture and sees the man that he's in love with and has been in love with and he sees him standing next to his father and he says my god they look alike and my father is actually handsome that made me think of the we all speak about the Oedipus complex which is Oedipus and his mother but one never really discusses and I'm sure it's it's such an ingrained taboo and you notice my reluctance to answer the question is itself part of the taboo is that I don't want to go there ok and in other words I'm repressing that very subject because it is uncomfortable so that we can all say yeah every man as Sophocles says every man dreams of you know at least making love to his mother at least once it was not a pleasant experience let me tell you but with my father I have never dreamt it because I know it's repressed but my father was a very handsome man and very good-looking man in athletic so I'm sure there's something going on there but I don't want to think about it I mean psychoanalysis would say that it's absolute prohibition that you know the father is he prohibits who he forbids whereas the mother is not so certainly it makes it for a much more difficult it's it simple its unfathomable well I was flirting with the idea I was just flirting with the idea and by removing it and sort of putting it somewhere else I was in fact trying to touch touch it up a bit and and at the same time not deal with it because I couldn't yeah more than not I mean in a way what you do is you displace it and you get place it into a narcissistic mode because I mean you have this mirroring between the two but I don't want to give away the plot yeah and so we'll take another question but I don't think it was not the taboo that prevented me take it from me no I think that the the book that they Italian publisher bought the first book that they bought and bought me with it was call me by your name it was not out of Egypt which would have been a far safer book to buy they went for the real thing and the reception has been amazing in Italy particularly so and in fact another reason why I feel very much at home there now homophobia in Italy is is an ongoing problem but so it is in Missouri you did oh okay Oh God also you you did go to two PS 87 I know because my kids were wearing your daughter's class okay yes I heard I think so too I think he was he was fantastic those what is it is four-minute talk conversation is definitely sort of Oscar material I have never seen anything as good as that but I think Tim said just to go back to the mother and make the mother happy timmy was amazing and there was a moment towards the end of the movie where you can see that he's got and you could almost feel it he's got this sob in his throat he's not sobbing which would have been easy he's not something it's in his face and the way he holds his throat it's there he is about to sob any moment and he doesn't and when he calls his mother and says mom could you come and pick me up at the station he's almost sobbing and it's done so well and for a person so young to know so much about human nature is amazing so yeah he doesn't need me for the different nature yes well it definitely is yeah desire no I get with it it was purely on the survey on the sound of the word the word desire especially after the whole embarked has become such a clean sort of bold word and its kind of it's it's it's bold and at the same time it has lost its vigor and I desire you is such a flat-footed way of saying I want you I want this person this is what you think about when you're alone by yourself and you say why am I constantly fantasizing about so-and-so what is it that so-and-so has that I don't have that I want because otherwise as another character says in one of my books you know everything he has I already have I don't need him okay but this is a more different and I like the idea of one of leaving it at one because want does not need to explain what it wants and I think that many times when we have this crisis of desire of wanting we don't exactly know what we're after and we hope nobody's going to ask us particularly the person we want what is it that you want from me well I don't know really what I don't even know if I want you I mean there's also that aspect of it that plays in and it had me it's part of the new book I'm writing so not mention about it but they were the music video in legal when there are these fantastic DVD this beautiful field of grass talking about philosophy an angel the great arrangement I'm going to be there Elizabeth what to say yeah and then since I stay maybe they will give you we live without hope with this desire that is also wanting a need to be with indicated courses to contemplate the basic division but if he combines I believe in his use of video for the desire Allah and I think so I think so but also I want when I write about wanting it's about a physical body I don't think Dante was actually think of a physical body is he okay okay yeah one more question but instead of feeling yourself driving was personal and you are also trilingual senses if your relationship to language is committed and that you feel very large in your home I write in English I went to British schools and english-speaking schools all my life I count usually in English which is not unimportant and so English is my house is in my professional language I feel very comfortable writing in English I wish I wish I did try to write in French and I did never would dare show it to anyone but it wouldn't feel it didn't feel fluent at all itself stilted and rough and so it felt very much like the way American writers write English today I couldn't help myself a day we were waiting for that but no but it's I wish I could write in French and I certainly wish I could write in Italian I will not refer to other people but to write in a language that is not yours professionally is to basically show that you don't know that language you have to know it very very well because the especially Italian which is a language that is is so fluid and I always like I think I said it in in one of our meetings at your Institute Oh my Italian tutor in Egypt said la storia bellissima pero a linguist or on a Sholto in other words it doesn't flow it's not smooth and it's Italian is a language that you have to be smooth and otherwise you don't you shouldn't even to waste your time writing in it and it is a difficult thing for me to do I wish I could do it so but ultimately when I take down notes when I'm in the subway and I'm taking down notes because there's something in my mind it always comes out either in French or in Italian later when I go home I have to translate it into English so English may not be the right the language that my heart is speaking but it's the language that I best act what is he you asking me if I remember my dreams that's yes you are you're you're a psychoanalyst you said and you're fishing and I'm not going to ask that I don't remember most of my dreams my dreams are the only times I know what language the dream is in is when I dream of my mother and my mother only knew French and so she speaks to me in French and life that is I know we're speaking in French but by and large I don't know what language I dream in and I don't remember my dreams unfortunately I'm one of those there you go right I don't know I can't answer that oh I know Cairo but I've never lived in Cairo I lived in Alexandria yeah yeah but I speak Arabic actually I think it's the only language I speak without an accent which is weird because my my Egyptian Arabic is now totally rudimentary I can fake it with a cab driver but and I can fake it when I buy something and I hear somebody's Egyptian so I was just speaking Arabic with them and they always shot and they always say are you an Israeli spy I say yes I am it's really fine yes actually I have to do it in English because I learned my multiplication table in English there you see okay well the other question is this is a good one I'm will ask this if you've been in Italy for a long time when you asked to spell your name what do you square how do you identify every letter like it's B is for beg Boston or there okay there's Imola and milano and Bologna LLC and you have to know those otherwise and what is it double the s is what sosser yes okay there you have it anyway so that's what No well I think we're either man thank you so much [Applause]

17 thoughts on “Italy as a Muse: A Conversation with Novelist ANDRÉ ACIMAN

  1. It is VERY frustrating not hearing the comments/questions from audience members. Would appreciate mikes in the audience

  2. Thank you so much for uploading this video. Andre Aciman is such an eloquent speaker and poignant stylist. The interviewer Giancarlo Lombardi is very insightful and knowledgeable about Aciman's work. In my wildest dream, I would like to have my dinner party guests with Aciman and Proust sitting at each end of the table. Except that I won't be able to join the conversation as I will be too dazzled by their presence to talk.

  3. André ACIMAN Jewishness in Americanism
    How can we be Jewish in a sexualized consumer's society?

    The patterns, figures, Gestalten of Solomon’s Jewish wisdom is everywhere present in Aciman’s books but he dissolves it in a very standard American façade with here and there one mention of some Jewish heritage or link but in retreating presence from the first novel to the last. It has become purely anecdotic in this last novel.

    I study the first novel, Call Me By Your Name, and the last novel, Enigma Variations, and I try to understand what’s wrong with his characters that makes them pathetic and even melodramatically corrugated for normal society to which they only aim to adapt, in which they only aim to dissolve themselves and yet they can’t because deep in their brains, deeper in their flesh, deepest in their penis and phallus, and the two are not the same (check Jacques Lacan on the subject) they are indissoluble because they are Jewish, but they are tortured by the impossibility in the normal consumer’s society of modern America to clearly capture the dual nature of any divine reference and of any sexual dimension.

  4. Italy can be nice and romantic in some places where you can isolate yourself from the struggle many Italians have to endeavour. Being a rich guy, Aciman has most likely avoided the less glorious places of Italy

  5. Call Me By your name is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Never enjoyed a book like this one before.

  6. but the struggle for the fruit and elio sobbing on oliver's shoulder was written in the book…

  7. What a nice interview! It made me have a better knowledge of the author and appreciate even more the excellent movie ‘Call me by your name ‘!

  8. Aw! How great that Nicole (Timothée's mother) was in the audience listening to Aciman praise her son without him even knowing it.

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