Italian fiction was in great need of Jonathan Bazzi, and these last three years prove it. Feverhis debut, was, among other things, a finalist for the Strega 2020 award and book of the year 2019 by Fahrenheit Radio Tre. Minor bodiespublished in February by Mondadori, is the statement of a writer who is revolutionizing contemporary literature.
An honest and straightforward novel, in which the memory is laid bare by a pen capable of scraping the surface of the narrated world to get to the bottom of intimate and at the same time universal feelings. The memories of Rozzano and the present in Milan, the sex with strangers met on the App and the love for the new partner, the Faculty of Philosophy and Yoga. Jonathan Bazzi has written a book that has the great merit of communicating with the most sensitive chords of this detached contemporary of ours, giving himself without hesitation.
After a debut like yours, returning to the bookstore must not have been so easy. How did it go, and how is it going?
I would say well, I am very satisfied. After Fever, I wanted to prove that I can write. Not only to have an interesting personal history, but also to be able to write, to have a good pen. I was very keen and, from this point of view, I think it’s going well.
Why was it so important?
Why with Fever I suffered from certain misunderstandings, between me and the readers – but also between myself and part of the press, born of some linguistic choices I made. I got the impression that many people thought that the style used in Fever was my only possibility of writing, my limit. But it is not, and I wanted to prove it. The thin language of my first novel was seen, taken as the only thing I was capable of doing, and I was a little sorry.
Well, on the other hand, the language adapts to the narrative.
Yes, indeed. In Fever on the one hand, in the chapters on Rozzano, there was the story of a teenager and in those pages I wanted to mimetically reproduce his fragmented thoughts. On the other hand, in the chapters on fever, there was the story of a body out of control – it required a chopped tongue even that case but for other reasons. Writing that book, therefore, I felt I could not indulge in stylistic complacency because the result would have frictioned. The language had to adhere to the story. Hence, the style that many thought was my only chance.
Writing Minor bodiesInstead, did you feel you could use a different register?
Yes, so much so that this desire to demonstrate knowing how to write in another way came out spontaneously. The story of this second novel of mine, after all, deals with a period in the life of the protagonist which, in some ways, is very distant from the period told in Fever. The Jonathan in this book is more in control of himself, he embarks on a personal path which, despite his many alternations, has a certain direction. Jonathan here studies philosophy, law – and not just university texts, he feeds on something profoundly different than in the past. He is a more active character, both with respect to the world and also with respect to himself – before things just happened to him, now he is no longer like that.
What came first? The desire to demonstrate that you know how to use the language or this story, which itself asked for a new register?
They came together, I think. One pulled the other by the jacket.
Let’s talk about the title now. How was it born, and what is the meaning?
What I wanted to tell is the problematic, at times perhaps pathological, drift of falling in love. That place that leads us to ask ourselves a whirlwind of compulsive questions in an attempt to understand love. For this reason, at first the title I had thought of was The deconstruction of a love – variation of the song by Ivano Fossati, made famous by the interpretation of Mia Martini. Right from the start, however, I was told, especially by my agent, that it was not a working title. Then, in the writing phase – I was already quite advanced, this title arrived, Minor bodies. I don’t remember exactly when and how, but I do remember that it crossed my mind like a bolt of lightning. I liked it so much, I marked it in the notes of the cell phone and I let it settle. It is a term that has a very specific meaning in astronomy and that has a lot to do with my novel. It indicates the smaller bodies, those that in space float around the larger bodies, which swirl around the larger and heavier bodies. Here, it was this concept that captured and fascinated me because it binds well to that of desire, which is central in the novel, as I understand it.
How do you mean it?
It has to do with the attraction that the larger bodies operate on the smaller ones and on the perpetual motion of the latter around the former. When we desire, in some way, we orbit around people and places which, we ourselves do so, we elect objects of desire feeling, in this dynamic, lesser bodies. Missing, defective, inadequate bodies. It is an idea of desire with a strong hierarchical connotation – but, on the other hand, if desire operates this separation between major and minor bodies of equality, one cannot speak.
What does this inequality translate into?
In the abuse of power that we too often see within a couple. In incorrect gestures, sad events – or even violent ones, unfortunately.
Can relationships work in this subordination?
No, I believe that truly functioning relationships are ones where roles, somehow, fluctuate. They are those in which there is an exchange: on certain issues, on certain occasions, one is a major body and the other a minor, on others it is vice versa. In this way a balance is created, it goes well or badly on an equal footing.
Both in relation to this discourse, and also to certain events in the book, I ask myself, I ask you: do desire and fear coincide, then?In some ways, yes. All forms of fear are linked to roads, to underground passages, which lead to desire. They are manifestations, but in the negative, of desire, of attraction.
Alessandro Giammei reviewing Minor bodies in Domani he underlined how homosexuality in this novel is not a theme, but a fact of reality. It is, on balance, an element of novelty in Italian fiction. Are things changing in this respect?
There are signs. The same novel by Mario Desiati, Spatriate, published by Einaudi last year, somehow does a similar job. In this book, too, sexual orientation is there even though it is not central: the focus is elsewhere. It is happening, in short, and not only in literature. Take the participation of Mahmood and Blanco in Sanremo. Their performances on the Ariston stage, and the chemistry they brought, is something that has a lot to do with the speech we are making. It is a dynamic that crosses differences, which does not conceive of them as oppositions. Finally, a transversal plan is starting to work, which ignores what once were divisions: diversity is communion, richness to be shared.
Let’s talk about the family now. We discovered it in Feverwe also read it in Minor bodies: you have no relationship with some members of your family. Was it painful to write about it?
Painful I would say no, however, I realized it above all in retrospect, in this last novel I changed my gaze with respect to many situations that have to do with my family and my past.
What do you mean?
Jonathan in Minor bodies there is a self-critical possibility that in Fever he was absent. Towards his father, for example, before he was clear-cut, very hard, now, on the other hand, I have the impression that he makes an attempt to understand the circumstances that led to certain choices – choices of the father, I mean. He begins to understand that going on with this sort of continuous showdown, which does not allow truce, is useless and harmful for everyone, especially for himself. Then, beyond the figure of the father, Jonathan in this novel also speaks of his sister, who in Fever she was practically absent, being, in the years told, only a little girl. Jonathan here also talks about the role of her brother, about the sense of guilt he feels for having left her there, in Rozzano. In order to save himself, he must abandon her, in a certain sense, and only in retrospect, precisely in the years that he recounts in Minor bodieshas to deal with the sense of guilt.
In your novels you have done a rather important and demanding work on memory. In Fever you tell the years of your youth by sticking to the emotions of that period. In Minor bodies you tell a more adult age using the feelings of those years. Was it difficult to talk about these phases of your life without contaminating them with the gaze you have today?
Fever I wrote it instinctively. I dealt with emotions that I had lived with for a long time and that I felt I wanted to objectify precise forms. Minor bodies, on the other hand, it is more reasoned from many points of view. The distance I place between reality and representation increases and also becomes a theme. A difference that allowed me to preserve, with respect to writing, the different points of view of the different periods told.
Living in reality and living in the pages: is this what becomes a theme?
Yes exactly. I experience what happens to me with a certain degree of separation from the events themselves. In my eyes, experiencing an event, what appears before me is already given as a scene. I am a sort of external spectator of many events that happen to me, I would say, and perhaps that is why it is so spontaneous for me to make direct use of autobiographical material. With my lack of adherence to reality, what happens to me immediately takes the form of a narrative material. I live like this: I hold Jonathan from the world to bring him to the page.
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