Franco Pezzini graduated in Canonical Law and he is a scholar of the relationships between literature, cinema and anthropology, paying particular attention to the mythical-religious aspects of Fantasy. He is one of the founders of the L'Opera al Rosso magazine, a member of the editorial committee of the L'Indice dei libri del mese, a member of the editorial staff of the webmagazine Carmillaonline and collaborates with other magazines. In this in-depth interview, he tells us about one of his work and his most recent essays.
Your book-dictionary-essay is extremely complex. How did such an original idea come to mind?
Well, using the language of the Victorian audience we could say it is a magic lantern. Ondoya publishes excellent Guides, but this is a different type of thing: the subject matter isn’t a single theme, a defined literary, cinematographic or pictorial genre, both in its genesis and ramifications. On the other hand such references as “Sherlock Holmes”, “Dracula”, “Alice in Wonderland” would have been too generic, adding up to the already immense number of existing texts (even on the web). We should be more accurate, instead: the merit goes to the publisher, who read some of my pieces of Carmillaonline, especially the “Victoriana” series which I have been curating for many years and asked me to gather them in a more homogeneous way. They are transversal readings, leaving everything the reader already knows as implicit whilst suggesting alternative meanings.
The problem was, of course, that they were contributions written in different eras, according to different facts, publications and provocations that were in progress, so to speak: I didn’t want to lose this dynamic ‘historical’ aspect. The solution was hard to find in the end, but it was functional: first of all I haven’t collected all contributions from the “Victoriana” series, but a specific selection; to which I added other articles I had published on Carmillaonline or elsewhere (L’indice dei libri del mese, LN Libri Nuovi…) and some new material, too. The original dates were kept as a reference; I enriched the texts with new material, still trying not to alter their original spirit as they were meant for exhibitions, book releases and shows… Bibliography and filmography are there to help those readers who want to continue researching on their own.
Which are the most peculiar and least known aspects you have brought to light with your work that you particularly wanted your readers to discover?
That is a tough question! Within the limitations of my research, it is very dear to me to cultivate the quest of the character of Carmilla, with many travels including one to Stiria: my first monography, many years ago, was about this theme. I would like to quote those pages to highlight the links between Le Fanu and Lewis Carroll, or certain internal paths (on cats, for example…) about that extraordinarily elegant story about vampires. Though, they are still single examples: the whole book tries to bring less known stories into light (the killer nun in Robin Hood, stories that got lost in the penny dreadful, certain adventures coming from the esoteric underworld of the period…), and to make people – including myself – aware of such bizarre connections.
I wouldn’t talk about single contents, but an all-encompassing approach. I am fascinated by the under text research, studying language and symbols, possible links to unexpected sources… A transversal approach is fundamental. I hope that at the end of the reading, those who wish to be my accomplices will feel the need to deepen that research. We should always bear in mind that nowadays with scans of entire libraries and so many academic materials, there is no longer the need to travel the world to find single documents… even if this ‘classic’ method is still needed from time to time.
What were the major challenges in approaching a work of this kind?
From the content point of view: the title was a huge challenge. It is different to work on single pieces online, where you are free from time restrictions. On the other hand, a collection of all articles in one volume spreading across the entire horizon of the Victorian scenario needed to be well balanced and to widen the spectrum with new articles on topics that hadn’t been examined yet and I think the final result is well balanced. However, with such a spectrum it would be unthinkable to be 100% exhaustive. Let us say there is room for other Victoriana volumes (to be specific, I do have material for a second book: so let’s wait and see).
The second challenge concerns the choice of a communication register, in order to be able to talk to different audiences. On one hand a book like this isn’t of the academic kind, on the other hand it needs to be intriguing for a culturally ‘strong’ audience. It also needs to be interesting for a pop reader, the one proudly connected with fandoms. It is not a merely commercial objective: it is imperative nowadays to keep a leitmotiv for both ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures. This requires working on the language – I have changed my way of writing a lot since my first articles – and contents too, of course. I cannot renounce their complexity, as the word complex is just the opposite of dull and not easy. I think about the extraordinarily clear Anglo-Saxon essay school.
You have published volumes with different themes, how do you choose the next subject?
A book is always a meeting point for the author and the publisher: I offer certain ideas and we choose together. The hints come from topics I have already worked on as a reviewer. Since the end of 2012 with my ‘modest’ Libera Università dell’Immaginario I have been hosting ‘popular’ courses – open and free to anyone – on important literary works, on the supernatural and not only: some of these courses are about to become books. Such as the ones published after Victoriana, new perspectives from Apuleio (L’importanza di essere Lucio) and Petronio (L’odissea di Encolpio), to start a collection of pop Classics. Where the model isn’t “Umberto Eco narrates the Promessi sposi”: not only because I am not Umberto Eco, but also because my role is to invite people to read without interfering. It is a way to get the classics back, starting from Latin and Greek ones… something that can do us good.
I deal with fantasy, the myths and the way they manage to have an impact on our reality (both interior and collective, and even political) with concrete results. Following them with written texts (literature is my favourite means), in films, and in paintings. It isn’t much different in the end. My passion for certain themes started during my childhood. I was born in 1962, brought up with the TV of the Sixties and Seventies which was full of England already: London, the Big Ben and the bridges on the Thames, the houses with their hay roofs, that small amount of pop that managed to reach us straight from the Swinging London. Then I discovered the Hammer films and much more that can be found in Victoriana. At the same time there were the legends, the epos coming from books and classic television series. My secondary school years were also fed by a group of friends I exchanged opinions with about our passions, literature and writing techniques. All these elements can be traced back in the volumes.
May I ask you what projects you are working on at the moment?
I will continue with my TuttoPoe course, a review of all works by Edgar Allan Poe which started last year, at the same time there will be meetings about the Aeneid, too. They are very challenging events, but they are also extremely rewarding for the people I meet, as they come from different backgrounds, some of them writers, some of them artists. It is a stimulating and enriching environment, in particular, for me.
As far as the books are concerned, the next step with Odoya will be Frankenstein, to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary, together with other topics as I feel extremely at ease working with them. With my friend and essay writer Fabrizio Foni we will also publish a collection of short tales by very talented authors, called: Jolanda & Co. Le donne pericolose for Cut-Up: in my essay I will be dealing with piratical women. Wish me luck!