Interviewed by Edoardo Sylos Labini
Translation: Túlio S. Borges de Oliveira
Edoardo Sylos Labini: Tell us about an OFF episode from the beginning of your career?
Giordano Bruno Guerri: One day I published my book on [Giuseppe] Bottai, originally my thesis, through Feltrinelli. It was very successful, especially in that it raised a few important questions. It was the first time someone suggested and demonstrated that there was not only a fascist culture, but also honest and cool fascists, such as Bottai. On top of all that, the book appeared through Feltrinelli of all publishers . . . you can imagine the commotion and perplexity it all provoked. One day you receive a phone call from a kid I didn’t know, who told me he had read the book and would like to meet me with some of his friends. You accept the invitation gladly and go to Via Sempione, where you find and get to know some of the finest minds of today’s Nuova Destra: Solinas, Cabona, Tarchi, and I don’t know how many others. Most comic of all, making me really laugh, was the fact that the restaurant – which was anything but Nuova Destra – was owned by a man in a black shirt who gave us the Roman salute and had covered the entire room with pictures of Mussolini. It was a curious encounter, very much OFF, I think.
ESL: Giordano Bruno Guerri, you are a writer, a journalist, one of the most appreciated historians in Italy and, at the moment, you are also the president of the Vittoriale degli Italiani, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s museum-house. We have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of D’Annunzio’s birth. What is his legacy to Italian art and culture?
GBG: D’Annunzio did not merely leave a legacy, he still gives. He was a formidable forerunner who managed to renovate the Italian literature of the 19th century with the publication of Il Piacere, immediately diffused all over the world, when no one outside Italy – then as now – knew Manzoni. He injected new energy in Italian poetry and in the relationship with the bourgeoisie, with politics, with military life. Above all, he left us a very important message, with contemporary resonance: “Preserve your liberty fully, to the point of inebriation” and “Not the one who suffers, but the one who enjoys life is the one with knowledge.” And here we are not speaking of hedonism, but of joy as intellectual life that is both free and pleasurable. These are his messages, besides that of looking always ahead, projecting and imposing your own future, knowing how to make other men share your dream.
ESL: Are D’Annunzio’s battles still current?
GBG: They are always current. He is often labelled a ‘proto-fascist’ – and he was that too, given that he was a superhuman and that he therefore adopted a superhumanist perspective that would later coincide with fascism. But D’Annunzio was essentially a libertarian and the defense of the freedom of the individual should be our goal, should be one of the missions of the Right, in fact . . .
ESL: D’Annunzio turned Fiume into “a city of life, a city of art,” which was a major page . . .
It was an extraordinary page. If any other country had a similar episode in its history, it would have mythologized it with films, novels, etc., and instead of that it seems we are ashamed of it. Fiume was a right-wing anticipation of ’68, because in the libertarian spirit of both Fiume and D’Annunzio there was also that superhuman component, in which il capo [the leader, the boss] was a huge part of the thing. But Fiume was an unforgettable adventure that reached not only into the future, but at the same time into the past of Italy, the Renaissance. D’Annunzio conquered Fiume as a 15th-century condottiero and ruled it as a modern-day pirate.
ESL: Music is a central element in the Carta del Carnaro [Fiume’s Constitution under D’Annunzio] . . .
Yes, you find music mentioned in the constitution as an instrument of life and elevation for the people, which must to all intents and purposes be distributed, taught in the schools and to a great number, like the beauty of the city itself. Urban planning, as we call it quite horribly nowadays, was not invented by the various communes, but by D’Annunzio.
ESL: In your latest biography of him, La mia vita carnale, you reveal a private D’Annunzio, delving into his daily and love life: how did D’Annunzio go about seducing women?
He enjoyed the great advantage of being courted. He would arrive in a saloon and all the ladies would be hanging on his smile – toothless though it was – because his charisma, his fame, his elegance, but above all his eloquence were such that everybody was under his spell. I think he seduced them with the extraordinary words at his disposal; at thirty he claimed – and we can believe – to having used 15,000 words, while we on average use between 2,000 and 3,000. He made the women feel as though they were queens of their own lives – which is a magnificent gift. And according to him, he received what he gave, absolute dedication.
ESL: A relatively unknown fact about D’Annunzio is esotericism, his connection with the afterlife. Is it true that you happened to make contact with D’Annunzio’s ghost at the Vittoriale?
I live in the house of the architect Maroni – like all presidents do when they are at the Vittoriale. This is the place where Maroni, D’Annunzio, and Luisa Baccara made spiritual séances and got in touch with the afterlife. Now and then I will be shaken by the wind, feel certain drafts, but I am quite convinced that this is due to the windows, which are still those from the 1920s!
ESL: Another important biography that you chose to tackle deals with that great man and Italian artist of the 20th century, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti . . .
Marinetti was the last important man to see D’Annunzio alive; twenty days before D’Annunzio’s death, he came with all his family to visit him and brought a great gift: a sculpture that happened to be the dual control of a Caproni twin engine aircraft with the following dedication: “We are the engines of the new Italy.” I wrote both volumes at the same time – D’Annunzio appeared first, then Marinetti – because both men are part of the same project, a magnificent, unconscious cultural project in Italian and world culture. Two innovators, one who starts from the past (D’Annunzio), the other looking straight into the future, but both desirous of changing everything, two revolutionaries.
ESL: Initially they enjoyed a good relationship, but then there was a clash of personalities. You always mention a delightful rejoinder by D’Annunzio in one of his quarrels with Marinetti . . .
Marinetti provoked him, treating him as an antiquarian, an old horn, and D’Annunzio, being a great linguistic creator, fulminated back with an extraordinary epithet: “cretino fosforescente” [phosphorescent dullard]. You cannot get more futurist than that.
ESL: Do you see D’Annunzio’s life as more futurist than that of the Futurists? He was called an antiquarian, and yet his life exhibits all the themes of the futurist man . . .
Not every futurist managed to lead a futurist life, but D’Annunzio did. One just need to think about what he did with the Vittoriale. It is often said that the Futurists wanted to destroy the museums, which was not true, merely a provocation. D’Annunzio, on the other hand, created a museum of his own life that in reality is not a museum, but time suspended at the moment of his death, so that it could perpetuate his life. He projected his own future onto the world after his death and managed to accomplish that in an extraordinary manner. Il Vittoriale is in great health, and I am proud to let OFF know in advance (because the official data will only be published at the end of the year) that at the end of November  we already had 16,000 more visitors, roughly 8% more, than we had in 2012 and thus that the profits were greater. Il Vittoriale does not produce only culture and beauty, but also wealth. I believe that D’Annunzio, 75 years after his death, would be pleased.
ESL: At OFF we interviewed Mimo Paladino and Velasco, who have worked with you . . .
They are both Vittoriale donors, having given us extraordinary works — Mimo Paladino his blue horse, which has practically become a symbol of the new Vittoriale, imperiously presiding over the lake; Velasco his pack of dogs that stand next to D’Annunzio and his ten buried companions in the mausoleum — so this communion makes me very happy indeed.
ESL: What would D’Annunzio do today, in the current political situation in Italy?
My initial instinct is to say he would grab the situation with his fists. Unfortunately, I stand contradicted by the fact that he abstained from doing that in 1921, when he could, but the disillusion of Fiume was such (we should remember that he was forced to abandon Fiume when the Giolitti government sent cannons against him) that he felt disgusted and ended up secluding himself in the Vittoriale. Perhaps today he would do it differently – he would certainly not go through Parliament!
ESL: Some people have curiously compared [Beppe] Grillo to D’Annunzio. Does that seem fair to you?
No, please! First of all, there is an immense cultural gulf – the size of the Mariana Trench – separating them. Sure, the great subversives are always close in spirit. Actually, it wasn’t long ago that Grillo wrote in his famous blog a phrase that seemed his but was actually by D’Annunzio. It was an incitement to the destruction of today’s political world in order to bring about a general renovation, so that we could rediscover the joy in living and save the economy as well as our liberty. Those words were D’Annunzio’s and Grillo made them his own. I doubt that D’Annunzio would ever make Grillo’s words his own . . .
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Edoardo Sylos Labini is a theatre actor, director and writer. He is the founder and director of ilgiornaleoff.it, which appeared in November 2013 as a Sunday supplement to Il Giornale.
1. The original interview (in Italian) was published on March 12, 2015 and can be accessed here.
2. OFF is the Italian cultural supplement that originally carried this interview. According to the editor, Edoardo Sylos Labini, they try cover – and give voice to – artists who are not part of the mainstream, artists “against time,” so to speak. The name OFF is a celebration of non-conformism.
3. Though it appeared in March, 2015, this interview was clearly conducted at the end of 2013, when the 150th anniversary of D’Annunzio was celebrated.