Writing for lunch and dinner: Vanni Santoni's lessons for aspiring authors

Scrittura a pranzo e a cena: le lezioni di Vanni Santoni per aspiranti autori “A Monument for the Anxious and Hopful”, “interactive” installation by the American artist Candy Chang, in collaboration with the author James A. Reeves (2018)

It is not difficult to find a good essay on the art of writing. It is difficult to find one that, in addition to addressing aspiring writers, represents an enjoyable and useful (yes, useful) reading even for those who already write or for those who have never dreamed of taking a pen in hand, but love literature; not so much a manual of techniques but a “personal essay” on writing, indeed on writing , the title of a famous book by Stephen King that has become cult, and not only among those in charge of works.

«La scrittura non si insegna» di Vanni Santoni è edito da minimum fax (pp. 100, euro 13)
“Writing is not taught” by Vanni Santoni is published by minimum fax (pp. 100, EUR 13)

It falls in this category happy the new book by Vanni Santoni, writer, editor, writing teacher and author active on social and literary world: Writing is not taught , released by minimum fax. The essay clarifies from the outset, with a joke by Julio Cortázar interviewed by Mario Vargas Llosa, that expecting a “master” instructions on writing would deserve a Zen response, a provocative “stroke of the chair” on the head. You cannot teach to write, Santoni argues, or to think that writing consists only in using techniques that can also be learned (structure, climax, conflict …): literature is more than that, there is no good structure for each novel, indeed the novel genre has explored infinite possibilities. What can be done, says the author, is to teach “to be a writer”.

So the mission is this: to teach not to write but to become writers. If on one hand Santoni's method seems to offer few, precise and detailed rules on paper, on the other the essay begins, first imperceptibly then in crescendo, to “push aside” from the linear enunciation of the prescriptions, until it transforms itself into a living body, with rejects and exponential multiplications of the possible paths. How? Simple: on page 9, the first note appears at the bottom of the text. At the end of 100 pages the notes will become 109.

Between the text and the apparatus of the notes – in fact let's call it counter-singing or even subtext – Santoni creates a close dialogue, as if actually giving the writing lesson were two voices, one more paludate and steadfast in pursuing the goal of teaching, the other ironic, or comic, or inclined to digress, or learned, or helpfully pedantic, sometimes confidential and even winking.

Vanni Santoni (Montevarchi, Arezzo, 1978)
Vanni Santoni (Montevarchi, Arezzo, 1978)

An example. In the essay, chapter number one is dedicated to the first rule to become writers, the “Diet”: a non-food but book-based regime, because to be an author you must first be a reader. But readers of what? Santoni offers a first list of compulsory titles, James Joyce's Ulysses and Marcel Proust's Recherche solo as an appetizer, and then another list, and another even more immense, dozens of gigantic tomes such as Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace or 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, to obtain «a sudden awareness of the dizzying possibilities of the novel». And when he arrives at The rainbow of gravity by Thomas Pynchon, here comes the note, comedian, of the subtext on the gargantuan novel: “Affectionately defined by one of my students as” the final monster ” '; followed by the story of an anecdote on the subject.

Or. In the fundamental chapter of the essay, on «Disciplina», Santoni explains how and why a writer should force himself to write every day. And when he pushes himself to promise that following the rule, the student will really manage to finish a novel, the note comes: “Consider it a” satisfied or refunded “formula”. Although there may be half of the work to be thrown away, he adds (and in the note here is the warning: “Put it into account”).

The notes “speak”, tell curiosities just mentioned in the text (“Kurt Vonnegut notoriously advised against the use of the semicolon …”), specify bibliographies (“To deepen the theme can be read … ») or they reformulate the rule considering unexpected variables, common in literature (« I would not, however, at this point, think that … »).

Thus the lessons, which continue with chapters entitled «First thing not to do», «Second thing not to do», up to «Exposition (and publication)», they expand between text and notes, they widen in rivulets, in river loops, in curious paths, the obligatory and the optional, until they approach the reader and involve him in an open dialogue. Showing to those who love to read, not only to future writers, how vast and varied the possibility of telling stories, and stories in stories: just like the object we are talking about, the novel. Maybe, surprisingly, in the middle of a friendly note, some other task for the aspirant or a new tome to read, as an affectionate and meticulous live teacher, in flesh and blood would do.

The author

Vanni Santoni, after his debut with Precarious characters (Rgb, 2007) , has published, among others, Interests in common (Feltrinelli 2008), the trilogy of Terra ignota (Mondadori 2013 – 2017), for Laterza Muro of coffers (2015) and The deep room (2017), The Michelangelo brothers (Mondadori, 2019). For minimum fax he coordinated the collective novel In enemy territory (2013). Collaborate with the «Corriere».

28 May 2020 (edit the 28 May 2020 | 21: 31)